(Portland Timbers Facebook Page)
When you think of the great American sports rivalries, everything that comes to mind seems to come from the East Coast. And why not? The East Coast has more history, more population. But rarely does a rivalry, a fully recognized American rivalry, come from the West Coast.
What does the West have that stands up against Yankees and Red Sox? Steelers and Eagles (or even Penguins and Flyers)? Do we have anything that can even stay on par with Duke and North Carolina?
There will always be the pockets of local rivalries that are important due to divisions. Sure, we have the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. Maybe we could add the LA Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. But those rivalries only seem to be important when the teams playing them are both good. In contrast, it doesn’t matter if Yankees and Red Sox are good – that rivalry is prime time and nationally broadcast.
The case could be made that soccer will provide us the next Great American Rivalry – and it’s happening in the West.
And what makes a rivalry? The fans. And a person need look further than Portland and Seattle to find the most engaged, devout (nearly religiously so), educated and spiteful fans. The very nature of soccer, the thing that has made it popular the world over, is that it breeds this kind of devotion. And it’s a devotion so strong, so feared by authorities and clubs, that it requires that fans be segregated before the games even start.
And this is something you don’t see in other sports. Watching any MLB, NFL, NHL or NBA game shows that fans of all different jersey colors sit intermingled – or worse, fans attend games with no team colors on at all. Soccer just simply doesn’t allow for that.
In soccer, there is the term called the ‘red mist’. It’s a term used to describe a players need to hurt or foul an opponent. The fans are really no different. Whatever this feeling is, real or imagined, it has merited preventive actions to keep fans safe from each other.
What we saw in the final regular season meeting between the Portland Timbers and the Seattle Sounders exemplified the very word ‘rivalry’. As the Seattle fans got off their buses by Jeld Wen Field, they were quickly surrounded by police and stadium workers to ensure that they were kept to a single gate. The street that the buses came in on was actually shut down by authorities after all of the buses had pulled in.
For their part, the Seattle fans were up to the challenge of being heard over their corral – barricaded or not. Their chants could be heard from blocks away. The Timbers Army, not to be outdone, made their chants heard from the other side of the stadium entrances. And the back and forth shouting continued from an hour before kickoff through the entire game.
This is what rivalry is. This is why these two teams deserve to go to the front of the line when we crown the ‘next big thing’ in American sports. Maybe the Seattle Seahawks have the world record for loudest stadium – but they have nobody to shout at. Sitting between the Timbers and Sounders supporters was a complete barrage on the senses.
Is it any wonder then that the action on the field manifested itself to the tune of what was happening in the stands? Would there have been a red card for an elbow to the neck if the fans didn’t build up the players to such heightened levels of aggression? Maybe not. The atmosphere that Portland and Seattle create permeates everything it touches.
While the game was being played, nothing else mattered. There weren’t thoughts of standings or power rankings. There weren’t notions of playoff scenarios. There was only the two teams playing in front of fans that loved them to a fault. It wouldn’t have mattered if the two teams had been in last place or first place. The rivalry transcended the game to a level that isn’t seen in American sports very often.
When ESPN released their End of Century greatest rivalries at the start of the new century, soccer was nowhere to be found on the list. As America changes to further embrace soccer, as we build our history in this new century of sports, the Timbers and Sounders have already staked a great claim as part of the foundation of the next century’s great rivalries.
As the stadium sellouts continue to compile on both sides, and as the talent pool grows, this rivalry will continue to be a featured national event. European fans have a remarkable ability to recall games past between their hated rivals.
20 years from now, there will be that same nostalgia for fans who were able to attend the last game between the Timbers and Sounders.