BY Art Thiel 11:17PM 05/14/2011

Thiel: Sounders-Timbers: Cautious night for a rivalry

Fans from both Seattle and Portland were jacked, but the Sounders, long on fans but short on players, had to settle for a 1-1 draw.

Despite being allotted only 500 seats in a corner of Qwest Field, Portland supporters were vocal Saturday night. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Not sure exactly where the development resides on the narrative arc of Major League Soccer, but for a regular-season match, Andy Whipps paid $70 for a ticket with a face value of $26.

“Happy I did,” he said. He seemed to be sober, rational, functional.

Although he was clearly infected with a serious case of futbol.

Same for his friends, Sean Elam and Nathaniel Hobbs. The three Portlanders drove up Saturday morning after scoring the coveted ducats on a Craigslist ad a week earlier.

They planted themselves at a Pioneer Square bar a few hours ahead of a little pivot point in Northwest history – the renewal of the sporting spat between Seattle and Portland, maybe the biggest deal of the MLS regular season.

“It’s the rivalry,” Whipps said, beaming. “Portland-Seattle.” The order of the city names tells the tale of which side of the raindrop the speaker is on.

Sounders-Timbers, game 75 in a series of matches across various leagues, classifications, tournaments and cups over 36 years.

OK, it wasn’t Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. But it was sufficiently significant that ESPN, Sports Illustrated and the Wall Street Journal showed up to describe it. They were joined by 36,593 customers, a Seattle record for a regular-season MLS game.

Months earlier, Sounders management seemed so fearful of fan trouble that only 500 tickets were allotted to Portland fans. Actually, the Sounders bosses wanted just 150, but were badgered into a higher number – by their own fans wanting some semblance of the European/Latin American tradition of traveling targets.

Security was achieved by isolating the feisty 500 in a corner section of Qwest Field separated from the rest of stadium by gaps in the deck architecture. The Timbers Army wasn’t quite as alone as Tom Hanks and Wilson the volleyball in “Cast Away,” but it would have been a hard swim to the rest of the gathered humanity.

Just before the match, Emerald City Supporters offered a splendid replication of a European fan stunt tradition, tifosi. Unfurled over fans heads’ in the south end, the booster group created massive banners celebrating top players from Sounders history: Jimmy Gabriel, Preston Burpo, Brian Schmetzer and Marcus Hahnemann, plus current players Fredy Montero and Roger Levesque.

Dropped from the upper deck were three even larger banners featuring a message, “Decades of Dominance,” surrounding a stylized image of a Sounders fist crushing Portland. The entire display consumed more than half an acre.

The triumphal artwork beat the bejeezus out of the pre-game “Port-scum” chants by some Seattle fans who heckled in the streets their Timbers counterparts.

Turns out, the fans’ craftsmanship was the damp evening’s highlight.

A 1-1 draw kept the I-5 peace, but the lackluster affair didn’t do much for the need for rivalry resolution, nor for the disposition of Sounders coach Sigi Schmid.

“The atmosphere was great, but we’re at home and we have to have the three points,” he said. “We got a hold of the game in the second half, but I was not pleased that we gave the goal back.”

The Timbers were more assertive throughout, but the Sounders’ Alvaro Fernandez broke the halftime nil-nil with a bullet shot from 15 yards in the 51st minute. The lead lasted just 14 minutes until Mamadou Danso banged in a header off a long free kick from Jack Jewsbury. Thereafter it was mostly a battle of chants, which the Sounders won easily but earned only style points.

The Sounders had a severe manpower shortage. Already missing Steve Zakuani, O’Brian White and Mauro Rosales from earlier injuries, Erik Friberg went down this week in training with an ankle injury and Brad Evans left mid-game with a groin strain.

With such a patchwork lineup, a draw was probably the best the Sounders (3-3-5) could expect, while the Timbers (4-3-2) had to be happy to avoid another road loss, especially in such a daunting atmosphere.

So refined was the play that there wasn’t even a yellow card, much less a red card to signal the return of the rivalry with teeth.

It seemed as though there was so much anticipation for drama, the players and crowd backed off.

Before the match, the street party centered around Fuel, a bar next to a parking lot that became a fenced-off beer garden for about 1,600 fans at a time. Organized by ECS, the booster group made it a priority to curb any fan trouble, deploying a social media campaign that insisted fools not spoil the party by clobbering visitors.

“We put out the message – no violence, no problems,” said Greg Mockos, the organization’s co-president as he surveyed the beer garden fest. “This game is the prototype for the future.”

For anyone familiar with this mossy corner of the sporting universe, the idea of Euro-style hooliganism spreading far among the cannabis-loving tree huggers is a considerable stretch. But even among the placids, passions can run deep and strange, particularly since the rivalry’s renewal stirred so many memories.

“We think this game is bigger than the MLS Cup here,” Mockos said, referring to the league championship game after the 2010 season, which didn’t involve the Sounders. “Everybody is taking more precautions.”

Caution was indeed the word of the evening. No yellow cards, but plenty of yellow-light play. In the great tradition of Northwest springs, it was too wet to light the fireworks.


YourThoughts

  • Michael Kaiser

    I guess imitation is the highest form of flattery.  Of course it also says legions about the imitator(s).  Glad to hear the Sounders fans excelled in certain European traditions.  Heck, even the Sounders’ announcer would be right at home in Europe.  I do agree, though, that hooliganism stands a slim chance of passing here.  In fact, I was at Barnes and Nobles today and saw the quintessential Seattle occurrence–four people standing at the entrance for minutes waiting for the other parties to enter.  Still, on the copycat thing; I was down in San Jose for game 7 of the Sharks-Red Wings series last week and, while I was acutely aware that hockey seemed to have no place in a region where it will be in the 90′s if the Sharks reach the Stanley Cup, I also got the impression that what I was witnessing at the arena by the fans and the organization was uniquely San Jose.  Would never walk away from a Sounders’ game feeling that way.  Sounders-Timbers does bring back great memories, though!

  • Michael Kaiser

    I guess imitation is the highest form of flattery.  Of course it also says legions about the imitator(s).  Glad to hear the Sounders fans excelled in certain European traditions.  Heck, even the Sounders’ announcer would be right at home in Europe.  I do agree, though, that hooliganism stands a slim chance of passing here.  In fact, I was at Barnes and Nobles today and saw the quintessential Seattle occurrence–four people standing at the entrance for minutes waiting for the other parties to enter.  Still, on the copycat thing; I was down in San Jose for game 7 of the Sharks-Red Wings series last week and, while I was acutely aware that hockey seemed to have no place in a region where it will be in the 90′s if the Sharks reach the Stanley Cup, I also got the impression that what I was witnessing at the arena by the fans and the organization was uniquely San Jose.  Would never walk away from a Sounders’ game feeling that way.  Sounders-Timbers does bring back great memories, though!

  • Veezer

    `…we certainly are in desperate need right now for starting pitching, right?’
    Yup… Perpetually. It’s the most valuable thing in baseball.