In 1975, the Seattle Sounders beat the Timbers in Portland’s North American Soccer League debut. Later that same year, the Timbers beat the Sounders in overtime on their way to the Soccer Bowl championship game.
A rivalry was quickly born.
Many of the players on the Qwest Field surface tonight weren’t born when those roots were planted, but they are aware that the spotlight will be a little warmer than usual when 36,000 fans and a national TV audience gather to watch the rebirth of the Sounders-Timbers rivalry.
Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury got a taste of it days after being traded from Kansas City to Portland when he played in the preseason match between the Timbers and Sounders watched by 3,100 fans at the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila.
“Even in the small venue, when you came out there was something different about it. You could tell the atmosphere there was something special.” Jewsbury said.
Timbers coach John Spencer played in one of soccer’s most-heated rivalries, playing one game against Celtic as a member of Rangers. The Glasgow, Scotland, rivalry goes beyond soccer to religious and political passions, he noted.
“I only played on one of them at Celtic Park. It was a tremendous occasion,” Spencer said. “It’s a very difficult thing to try to pass on to people, the experience of playing in big games.
“It’s a funny one (to explain), because you can’t tell someone: ‘Listen, you’re going to feel these nerves. You’re going to feel that.’ Every individual reacts differently to big games.”
How Spencer’s team reacts in the first 15 minutes could go a long way to telling the story today. The Timbers have not yet won away from home, in part because of a series of shaky starts.
“The first 15 minutes is going to be key for us,” Jewsbury said. “When we’ve struggled on the road is when we’ve come out of the gate a little slow.”
The Timbers won their two most recent matches by 1-0 scores, both at home.
“Just our willingness to defend first and then attack,” right back Jeremy Hall said, explaining the key to those shutouts. “We’ve stayed connected, our communication’s been a lot better, and we’ve won the second balls.”
Those shutouts over Real Salt Lake and Philadelphia at Jeld-Wen Field are results the team expects to build from.
“The thing for us is being compact,” Jewsbury said, meaning the Timbers want to move as a unit up and down the field, limiting the space for the Sounders to create offense. “We realize there’s going to be times in the game where they have the ball, and if we can stay solid and compact and not let them break us down and get easy chances, then we know going forward we’ll get a few and hopefully we can finish some.”
If the Timbers get their first MLS road victory in Seattle, it won’t be just another win for the Portland fans. But it won’t happen if the players get caught up in the hype, Spencer said.
“I just don’t want the guys getting caught up in the euphoria of the media and the mentality of the fans,” Spencer said.
“There’s going to be a lot of passion, as we well know,” Spencer continued. “It’s important that you keep a clear head don’t make any bad decisions. Because when you start getting frustrated and start playing with anger rather than concentrating on the job at hand, that’s when you start making bad tackles and getting yellows and unnecessary red cards.”