To be sure, it’s a cliché for soccer teams to say that they throw out the records in rivalry games.
But it’s also certain that the participants in today’s clash between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC would be thrilled if they could throw away their recent past. Neither team has won in a while, which only adds a bit of sizzle to the first of three matches this season between the Cascadia Cup rivals.
“We need to produce this weekend. We need to stop talking about how good we can be and start showing how good we can be,” Timbers coach John Spencer said.
Spencer noted that the Sounders are equally hungry for a win.
“They’re not winning games left, right and center either, so they’ll come in here not probably full of confidence but looking forward to the game same as we are,” he said.
Seattle coach Sigi Schmid had a similar take. He said he learned in 2009, when the Sounders FC and then second-division Timbers met in a U.S. Open Cup match, that there is added spice to every game between Portland and Seattle.
“I think it’s the best rivalry in the league,” Schmid said, noting that he has experienced UCLA-USC as a college coach. “There’s definitely a lot of pride at stake for each of the cities and as a result it’s a game that brings out the uppermost emotions for all the players.”
For Portland’s Kris Boyd, this will be the first taste of Timbers-Sounders. But a veteran of Scotland’s Rangers-Celtic series knows how to define a rivalry.
“You look world wide at derbys, and I think it all comes down to the same thing: it’s hatred for each other. It’s as simple as that,” Boyd said.
This time the stakes are higher for Portland, given its position near the bottom of the standings and struggle to produce consistent scoring.
“We know that we haven’t had the best of seasons. But a (good) result on Sunday can change your whole season,” said Boyd, whose four goals lead the Timbers.
The Portland player with the most experience in the modern Timbers-Sounders rivalry is fourth-year defender Mamadou “Futty” Danso. He didn’t initially understand the ferocity of the rivalry.
“In 2009 I was still a rookie and thought everyone was trying to hype this game just because the cities are close to each other,” Danso said. “In 2010 I kind of started feeling how important this is to the city.”
That 2010 match was in the U.S. Open Cup tournament and was decided on a penalty-kick tiebreaker that went Seattle’s way. When the teams tied 1-1 in their first meeting as MLS clubs, it was Danso’s goal that earned Portland a draw in Seattle.
“These are the kind of games that you try to put in more effort, not just for the team, but for the fans and the city,” Danso said. “No one wants to lose to their rivals. I think both teams put in extra work for this game.”
Danso has put in extra time traveling to and from The Gambia for national team duty. Today he will be starting alongside David Horst for the first time this season. Danso said the pair have practiced together enough over the last two seasons that the partnership is a strong one.
As the cliché goes, anything can happen when rivals clash, and often does.
“Games like this generally don’t come down to coaching tactics,” Spencer said. “It comes down to desire. It comes down to the player who wants to win individual battles, and if you win enough of those individual battles you win the game.”