Alan Hinton and Kasey Keller have a deep appreciation for Portland-Seattle soccer rivalry.
Both are now part of the Seattle Sounders’ broadcasts. Each has a long connection to the battle being played out this week in the Major League Soccer playoffs.
And they love it.
A player for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the North American Soccer League, and a coach for Seattle Sounders teams in the NASL and the A-League, Hinton understands that the stakes are higher when a match features the Sounders against the Timbers.
So does Keller, the former national team and English Premier League goalkeeper who played for the Sounders in their first three MLS seasons. In 1989, the Olympia native’s first taste of the rivalry came when playing as an amateur for the Timbers in the Western Soccer Alliance.
Keller was an All-American for the University of Portland then. He recalled crowds of 10,000 supporting that amateur side.
He heard the wrath of larger crowds in Portland for U.S. Open Cup knockout matches in 2009 and 2010, when the MLS Sounders twice eliminated the second division Timbers.
“The thing that has impressed me the most is what the fan groups have done to support the clubs, and the ability of the fans and clubs to keep their history alive,” Keller said.
Hinton has lived in the Seattle area since 1979. He battled the Timbers as a player with Dallas and Vancouver in the NASL, and as a coach for the NASL Sounders (1980-82) and the A-League reincarnation of the Sounders in 1994.
“What the rivalry has done for Major League Soccer is fantastic,” Hinton said prior to Saturday’s first leg match, won by the Timbers 2-1.
Aside from the excitement of battle on the field, Hinton said other MLS franchises — especially future expansion clubs — would be wise to study closely what is happening in the Pacific Northwest.
Hinton’s personal battles with the Portland Timbers created lasting memories. One of his better ones was a late goal from Mark Peterson in Portland that clinched the 1982 NASL Western Division for the Sounders.
Four years earlier, the Timbers put an unexpected end to Hinton’s final season as a player. Hinton had come out of retirement and set a NASL record with 33 assists that season, helping the Whitecaps to a league best 24-6 record. But the Timbers went to Vancouver in the playoffs and won 2-0, big forward Clyde Best delivering a knockout goal.
“I can still see him,” Hinton said. “He put on the afterburners from the halfway line and that was that.”
Such unforgettable moments strengthen the fabric of any rivalry.
“There’s a little bit of added pressure, but that’s good for the game,” Keller said about the spice a rivalry adds to competition.
Long term, this week’s battle will be good for the rivalry, and have benefits even for the side that is eliminated Thursday, Keller said.
“You even want fans talking about your mistakes,” Keller said, because it means they care.”