Some Seattle Sounders FC players and coaches contend that the rivalry with the Portland Timbers is among the best, if not No. 1, in the United States.
Brian Schmetzer remembers when Seattle-Portland soccer games were bloodbaths.
Back in the 1980s, the days of the old North American Soccer League, reserve matches between the young Sounders and Timbers were more about survival than winning.
“Those games were murder,” said Schmetzer, a Sounders FC assistant coach who played on Seattle’s early NASL teams.
Some 30 years later, the physical brutality in games between the Pacific Northwest rivals has subsided slightly, but the venom remains.
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And in what might be a preview of contentious days to come, the storied rivalry between Seattle and Portland continues Thursday in a preseason exhibition at Qwest Field. Kickoff for the match dubbed the “Community Shield” is at 6 p.m., and proceeds will benefit local charities.
Portland, formerly of the United Soccer Leagues, is currently in the new U.S. Soccer Federation Division 2 Professional League and will join Major League Soccer in the 2011 season.
The enmity with Seattle, however, is already at the major-league level.
Some Sounders FC players and coaches contend that the rivalry with the Timbers is among the best, if not No. 1, in the United States.
“I can only speak for the seven years that I played against Portland, but those seven years had some of the most intense games I have ever been a part of,” said defender Zach Scott, a former USL Sounder. “It has definitely ramped up over the last couple years and could easily be the best rivalry in the country.”
When asked if that statement holds up, Schmetzer said, “From where I sit in the soccer world, yes.”
Alan Hinton, a former English international and ex-Sounders coach, said the rivalry he experienced with Portland in the 1980s compared favorably to those he saw in the English Premier League.
“It was like every other derby around the world,” Hinton said. “It was like Manchester United-Manchester City, Arsenal-Tottenham, Chelsea-West Ham. All those rivalries were just the same. And the one with Portland and Seattle, though Vancouver has to be in there too, was just the same.”
Nowadays, some Sounders FC players say the rivalry with the Timbers has surpassed that with Vancouver.
Scott said Seattle’s rivalry with the Whitecaps is “a little more cordial.” Along the same lines, goalkeeper Kasey Keller said the Portland rivalry is “a little bit nastier” and should be noticeable Thursday.
“To say that this is going to be a friendly is probably not the right word choice,” Keller said.
One of the key ingredients to the malice is fan support from both teams. The support of Sounders FC fans is widely known, but the Timbers Army is similarly passionate and has earned like praise.
“They’re clearly the best supporting group in the USL,” said Seattle forward/midfielder Roger Levesque.
Levesque is one of a handful of Sounders FC players who have a history with the Timbers dating back the USL days. His legend in Seattle — and subsequent loathing in Portland — may have reached a pinnacle during a U.S. Open Cup third-round match last July 1, when he celebrated a goal in Seattle’s 2-1 win with a “timber chop” re-enactment with some teammates.
“I can’t take full credit for that goal celebration,” said Levesque with a smile. “It was a group effort brainstorming on the drive down.”
But the best of the rivalry, goal celebrations and hard tackles alike, might be yet to come when the Timbers and Whitecaps join MLS next season.
“It’s something that’s going to be one of the key features of MLS in 2011,” Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org