Championship rings, petty banter and the weight of fans’ expectations mark the beginning of a new era in the rivalry between the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers Saturday.
For 42 years, the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers battled across the divisions and incarnations of American soccer, besting one another many times over as the rivalry developed into the fiercest in the American game. Never, though, have they met with a championship star over each club’s crest and a pair of ravenous fan bases demanding continued glory.
When the Timbers come to CenturyLink Field Saturday (noon, FOX), the clubs will enter the era of champions after MLS Cup victories for b0th franchises.
Onstage at Seattle’s victory parade Dec. 13, Clint Dempsey was handed the mic and paid homage to the rivalry:
“Now that we’ve won one, Portland can’t say s—,” he said to loud cheers.
That hasn’t stopped Portland fans from pointing to the year next to their championship banner, noting that above the words “MLS Cup Champions” reads “2015.”
Portland will always be a step ahead, they say.
I remember Dec. 6, 2015 well, the night Portland beat the Columbus Crew 2-1 in Ohio for the title. Diego Valeri scored the fastest goal in Cup history, 27 seconds into the game, with Rodney Wallace adding the second six minutes later. Kei Kamara pulled a goal back for the hosts, but Portland defended its way to a championship.
I was bartending, and had a group of four Timbers fans seated at a table. At the final whistle, there were shouts, hugs and tears. A forlorn-looking patron sitting at the bar leaned in to get my attention.
“Whatever the opposite of buying someone a drink is, can I do that for those guys?” he said.
Puzzled, I settled on bringing the table a pitcher of water.
The moment encapsulates the spirit of the rivalry: Constant, contentious, and all too happy to engage in frivolous pettiness in hopes of denying the opposition a moment of happiness.
Now that both have reached the zenith, the rivalry has the new significance of expectations from by fans to contest league titles every season.
The pettiness remains.
Schmetzer, who called the rivalry a “top-three” rivalry in American soccer (to avoid bragging, by his word) cast aspersions on the official credentials of Timber Joey, a Portland character who cuts off a slab of a log with a chainsaw after every home Timbers goal.
“I don’t like it,” Schmetzer said Tuesday. “That log and his, whatever. We don’t even know if he’s a real lumberman or just a guy. I’ll do a little digging on that and get back to you.”
Portland coach Caleb Porter did the digging for Schmetzer, and produced his findings in a Thursday press conference.
“I actually just got off the phone with Timber Joey and I wanted to clarify his experience working in the woods,” Porter said. “I will have you hear today that he is a legitimate ‘lumberman.’ He has worked in the woods and, to quote him, he has ‘cut, milled, and built things out of wood.’”
A little silliness over off-field traditions is part of the fun for the sides that will open a new chapter Saturday. It’s a way to deflect the pressure to not get shown up by hated rivals in front of home fans.
It hardly seems a coincidence that the Sounders received their championship rings Tuesday.
Schmetzer is trying to get his team to focus on the future, rather than dwell on past glories.
“We try to turn the page,” Schmetzer said. “Everything that we’ve done up until this moment has been great. We’ve won a championship and we’ve had some good press about Sounders finally winning a championship.
“They got rewarded today with the presentation of the rings, so now what we said was: ‘Enjoy your ring. We’re going to go back to work again. We’ve got a big match Saturday.’”