The renewed battles among Seattle, Portland and Vancouver have lived up to the history of their long-running Pacific Northwest rivalry.
TUKWILA — Lively, boisterous crowds. Gripping excitement. World-class goals.
Sounders FC, the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps have provided all that and more this season in a riveting reintroduction to the Cascadia rivalry almost 40 years since the three-way Pacific Northwest feud began.
“It’s been exactly what we all hoped it would be,” said goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
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And while unlikely playoff scenarios exist, Seattle’s 7:30 p.m. game Saturday in Vancouver will likely be its last taste of the rivalry this season.
Expect more unforgettable action.
In three regular-season games, the Sounders’ Cascadia involvement has already included a hard-fought tie against the Timbers in the pouring rain; an extraordinary goal by Vancouver’s Eric Hassli, which Keller said was probably the MLS Goal of the Year; and a thrilling comeback win in front of a hostile crowd in Portland.
“They are special games in the league,” said forward Fredy Montero, through a translator.
“When you have a rivalry like this,” said coach Sigi Schmid, “it should bring out games that you remember for a long time or moments that you remember for a long time — and it already has in a very short history.”
Hype and excitement haven’t translated to wins up north. The Whitecaps have the league’s worst record at 4-14-10 and have had half as many coaches as wins (director of soccer operations Tom Soehn replaced Teitur Thordarson in May).
Despite the team’s struggles, Vancouver’s fan support compares favorably to its Cascadia rivals. The Whitecaps’ average attendance of 20,542 ranks third in the league. Seattle leads MLS at 36,932, and Portland is No. 5 at 18,733.
“The Cascadia rivalry no doubt is in fine form and certainly is going to continue to grow over time,” said Sounders FC general manager Adrian Hanauer.
Growth in one form — away fan ticket allocation — is one topic that will be up for discussion in the offseason. This year, 500 seats were reserved for visiting fans in Cascadia games, which could increase — but only if done fairly.
“One of the pieces to the puzzle that we will always think about is maintaining home-field advantage,” said Hanauer, who opted against increasing the CenturyLink Field capacity for home games in the rivalry. “One thing I can almost guarantee is that there will not be 20,000 Vancouver and Portland fans in our building, while there are 500 of our fans in their buildings.”
Local soccer icon Alan Hinton, who coached the Sounders of the North American Soccer League from 1980 to ’82 and Vancouver in 1984, has enjoyed the rivalry’s revival and thinks there’s more to look forward to.
“The rivalry is off to a good start, but it will really start to happen (when these teams meet in the playoffs),” said Hinton, who set an NASL record with 30 assists as a Whitecaps midfielder in 1978.
“I’ve been involved in those games, and it’s a wonderful time.”
• Mauro Rosales (knee), Erik Friberg (hip), James Riley (concussion) and Mike Seamon (ankle) have all shown improvement but were limited in Thursday’s practice. Forward Mike Fucito (ankle) trained without restriction.
• During a live chat Thursday with ESPNDeportes.com, Rosales said he’s working on a two-year extension with Sounders FC and hopes to get a deal done before the end of the season.
Said Hanauer: “It’s never 100 percent certain, but I’m confident that we’re moving in the right direction and will get something done here in the not-too-distant future.”
• Saturday’s match marks the Whitecaps’ final game at Empire Field before moving to the renovated BC Place.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org