This weekend sees the MLS clash of the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders in what has become the biggest derby in American soccer. The fixture is now synonymous with spectacular fan displays from both sets of supporters but, as Shawn Wheeler of the Emerald City Supporters writes, the rivalry goes back further than many would have thought.
It’s a common misconception that soccer in America is a new thing, that the league’s rivalries are not as strong because they lack proximity and history. While it’s true that our biggest derby matches go far beyond city limits and often cross state lines, the history of some of these contests goes back nearly 40 years.
The best example of this, and the largest derby in America, is between Seattle Sounders FC and Portland Timbers FC. The cities are separated by 170 miles but the clubs have a long history on the pitch. They first faced off on May 2nd, 1975 with the Sounders coming away with a 0-1 road victory. Since that day, the clubs met 83 more times, with Seattle holding a 43-32-9 record in the all time series. As soccer has evolved in the United States, they’ve clashed in the North American Soccer League (1975-1982), A-League (2001-2004), United Soccer Leagues (2005-2008), and finally in MLS (2011-present).
While both clubs had attendance well in excess of league averages during their early days, the supporter culture was developed in the early 2000’s as the Cascade Rangers (predecessors to the modern day Timbers Army) and The Pod (now the Emerald City Supporters) were formed and started to grow. In 2009 the Sounders moved from the USL to MLS, leaving behind the Timbers and their Army. At the final USL away match on August 7th, the Emerald City Supporters made a statement with their choreo display “TONIGHT YOU HAVE BECOME IRRELEVANT”.
At the Sounders first ever MLS match in 2009, the Emerald City Supporters stated “TONIGHT OUR HISTORY BECOMES LEGEND.” When Portland hosted Seattle in the US Open Cup in 2009, the Timbers Army created an animated choreo in which they cut down Seattle’s landmark Space Needle with a banner “TONIGHT YOUR LEGEND BECOMES HISTORY”
In 2011, the Timbers joined the Sounders in MLS and the displays went to a new level. The ECS struck first, with a choreo documenting our Decades of Dominance and recognizing the legends within the club over the years. Later in the season, when Portland hosted Seattle, the Timbers Army stated their case as the King of Clubs. The playing card shown has many references to the culture of Portland and Cascadia (the name of the local rivalry region with Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver).
In 2012, Portland hosted the first match between the clubs and the Timbers Army revealed a display again using the legends theme, “Legends are born when the previous are surpassed” and giving credit to their legendary player Clive Charles. In Seattle later that year, the ECS went “All In” with a display showing our head coach Sigi Schmid sitting at a poker table with Timbers head coach Gavin Wilkinson. Schmid wins the hand with a royal flush, while the King of Clubs in the hand of Wilkinson is an exact smaller replica of the card used the year before by the Timbers Army.
Video: Seattle Sounders FC
In 2013, Seattle and the ECS had the first chance to set the tone of the displays of the year and we did so with a choreo that was larger than anything we’d done before. We decided to Build a Bonfire, with 4 of our club’s players riding away on horses after burning down a timber forest. The Timbers Army replied with “A Hard Day’s Night”, a musical representation of their love for their club and a shot at the Sounders who had recently purchased Clint Dempsey for a $9,000,000 transfer fee.
What do the supporter groups plan to do in 2014? Saturday will be the first chance to see, as the Timbers host Seattle for the first of two league meetings this year.
See also: Tifo: Inside the Timbers Army