This is how soccer should feel in America
And, in a game that ended in a 1-1 draw, the two renewed rivals gave the Qwest's largest MLS crowd a lively, end-to-end show that was tense throughout
Seattle Times staff columnist
Outside the North Gate of Qwest Field, Timber Joey was leaning forlornly on his chain saw about two hours before kickoff. He'd just been told he couldn't bring his chain saw into the game.
Now he had to wait another half-hour for the buses carrying the Timbers Army to arrive, so that he could find a place to stash the chain saw.
"There was a misunderstanding, evidently, between the two front offices," Timber Joey said.
The misunderstanding was that the two franchises didn't think it would be prudent for Timber Joey to bring a chain saw into Qwest, when all along, Joey thought it was the perfectly sporting thing to do.
"It (the chain saw) is an emblem of celebration and love," he said. "It has nothing to do with violence, but we're going to comply with their order."
So there was no chain saw Saturday night, but plenty of buzz. Even four hours before kickoff, the blocks around the stadium were humming.
Phillip Jacobsen, a member of the Emerald City Supporters, dragged an effigy of Timmy the Timber across the bricks in Occidental Square. Another Sounders fan ran up to him and asked if he could stomp on Timmy's face.
"Don't break him," Jacobsen ordered.
"This game is huge," Jacobsen said. "The rivalry's been going on for 35-plus years in the Northwest. We're in an upper stage now. I feel like we're the big brother who brought the Timbers into the league."
On a night when the steady rain just added to the atmosphere, Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers met for the first time in MLS. The game aired on ESPN2. All of soccer was watching. This was a chance to show off, an opportunity to see what can happen to this sport in this country.
And, in a game that ended in a 1-1 draw, the two renewed rivals gave Qwest's largest MLS crowd a lively, end-to-end show that was tense throughout.
For the first time in America, soccer has a true rivalry. Sixteen years after the first MLS game was played, the league finally has something that leagues in Europe and South American have had forever.
"This game means pretty much everything for me," said Brian May, a member of the Timbers Army. "It's bigger than the World Series. It's a great thing that's happening. It's historic. An amazing event."
Moments before kickoff, the Emerald City Supporters dramatically unfurled massive banners that commemorated the rivalry.
Large drawings of former Sounders Marcus Hahnemann, Preston Burpo and Jimmy Gabriel floated down the south end zone along with pictures of assistant coach Brian Schmetzer (the Sounders' USL coach) and forward Fredy Montero.
Then slowly another banner rolled down from the deck above, displaying a picture of a fist crushing a Timbers ball and proclaiming, "Decades of Dominance."
Finally, from below, a banner with a drawing of Portland nemesis Roger Levesque unrolled with a jab at Timbers fans that read, "48 seconds." In the 2009 U.S. Open Cup against Portland, Levesque scored in the first 48 seconds.
So maybe this wasn't Arsenal and Tottenham or Manchester United and Manchester City, but it was a celebration of what the game slowly is becoming in this country.
The banners were spectacular.
"This is an incredibly important and great thing for soccer in this country," Timbers COO Mike Golub said. "These kinds of rivalries strengthen the sport and elevate the sport, both regionally and nationally. For Seattle and Portland to have top-flight teams again, it is indeed historic.
"I think that everybody gets that, all bravado and talk aside, this is a good thing for soccer. I think all of the fans get that this is a sort of beacon for the league. The atmosphere and environment here will be like nowhere else."
For the first half, the Timbers attacked straight ahead from north to south and had the better run of play. Then in the 52nd minute, Montero won a header between two taller Timbers and put the ball on the left foot of Alvaro Fernandez, who beat diving Portland keeper Troy Perkins.
Levesque, of course, got an assist, and the building rumbled through the rain.
The rest of the game was open and entertaining, a back-and-forth slugfest. Four minutes after Fernandez's goal, Montero, playing some of his best soccer of the season, sent a dangerous chance at Perkins.
In the 65th minute, Mamadou "Futty" Danso tied the game and celebrated by sprinting behind the Sounders' goal and accepting the love from the Timbers Army, which was packed into a triangle of some 500 seats in the northeast corner of the stadium.
Nobody won this first MLS meeting between Portland and Seattle. Then again, maybe everybody won. This is how soccer should feel, even in America.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
email@example.com | 206-464-2176
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