The Sounders-Timbers Cascadia Cup game Saturday will be the first MLS game broadcast on network television since 2008.
Need proof that games between Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers are must-see TV?
After this season, all five MLS games between the rivals the past two years will have been televised nationally, and none more far-reaching than Saturday’s on NBC.
The 12:30 p.m. kickoff marks the first network broadcast of an MLS game since 2008.
“Going into Major League Soccer for the first time, (NBC) had to show at least one Cascadia derby between Portland and Seattle,” said NBC broadcaster Arlo White, who worked for the Sounders in 2010 and 2011.
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“I think the other two (games had been taken up by ESPN) — one in Seattle, one in Portland — so this one was a no-brainer. I think the powers that be, the people that select the games, know exactly how big this match is and what great television … this game will be.”
History is a big part of what drives the national appeal of the rivalry. This will mark the 78th meeting between the clubs dating to the old North American Soccer League; the Sounders hold a 40-28-9 advantage in the series.
Antipathy is another important factor.
“I don’t want to say hate, but it’s close — it’s close to hate,” said midfielder Steve Zakuani, who grew up in London watching the Arsenal-Tottenham rivalry.
“That’s how it is in Europe,” added forward Eddie Johnson, who spent four years playing with various European teams, including English club Fulham. “You go play derby games and you’ve got little 5-year-olds flipping you off when you go up to the stadium. That just goes to show you the passion and how much it means to the fans.”
This time, the Cascadia rivalry will be available to an estimated 115 million U.S. households on NBC.
Coach Sigi Schmid said it’s great to give the country a peek into the soccer phenomenon thriving in the Pacific Northwest.
“There’s a lot of color, there’s a lot of pageantry in their stadium, and there’s a lot of atmosphere there to absorb,” Schmid said. “I think that comes through on TV. It comes through better if you’re there in person, but it comes through on TV, as well. I think for the nation to see that, it’s a great advert for the sport of soccer.”
And maybe, just maybe, the increased access will convert some viewers to soccer and MLS fans.
“A lot of people who are involved in (the rivalry) know exactly how fierce it is, and those who are not familiar with it are about to get their first taste of it on Saturday,” White said. “I don’t think it will let them down.”
• Schmid said the availability of Christian Tiffert (ankle) and Mauro Rosales (quad) might be undetermined until Saturday.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org