PORTLAND — Soccer is best when united.
Among hated rivals Friday, examples were everywhere around Providence Park between the Portland Timbers and Sounders FC.
It began with the teams posing together for a pregame photo, holding a pennant with the phrase “Anti-fascist, Anti-Racist.” The statement was a show of solidarity by the clubs to their supporters groups, who are protesting MLS’s policies regarding signage at its stadiums.
The Sounders, playing forward Jordan Morris and midfielder Cristian Roldan on opposite wings for the first time this season, also played a more unified game, resulting in a 2-1 win. It’s Seattle’s first victory since July and secures the 2019 Cascadia Cup, symbolic of winning the “Northwest championship” among the teams from Seattle, Portland and Vancouver.
“The fact that we have two supporters groups that hate each other come together on an issue, that says a lot about what the issue is, that there’s something there that really needs to be discussed,” Sounders keeper Stefan Frei said. “We support them that they’re taking a stand. I don’t know how it looked on the TV, but I hope it had an impact. … We’ve just got to keep staying together as a team.”
Morris was a catalyst to both Sounders goals. He sent in a cross from the left side that deflected off Seattle forward Raul Ruidiaz and was tapped into the goal by Roldan in the 22nd minute.
In the second half, Morris delivered a beautiful cross to Ruidiaz just outside the goalkeeper’s box that the latter simply pinged into the net in the 47th minute.
Defensively, the Sounders were more cohesive in limiting Brian Fernandez, Portland’s Argentine forward, to one shot in 90 minutes. He personally beat Seattle in the past two matchups this season — one a U.S. Open Cup game in Tacoma — by scoring four combined goals.
Seattle defenders Gustav Svensson and Jordy Delem worked well to disrupt Portland’s attack in the midfield, while Xavier Arreaga and Kim Kee-hee defended well in the back. The Timbers’ one goal is the fewest the Sounders have conceded in their past four games.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit,” Svensson said. “It had to do with confidence. And when you lose confidence, you lose one-on-one duels. We gained the confidence back today and were able to win all the duels we had to. Everyone had a good game.”
Portland midfielder Diego Valeri put the Timbers on the board via a free kick in the 54th minute. The play erupted the sold-out stadium (25,218) in cheers, an audible contrast to the opening half.
Tensions rose between the supporters groups and MLS at the July 21 version of the derby at CenturyLink Field when Sounders fans displayed an Iron Front banner and were told by the league it was politically based and therefore banned, resulting in a three-game suspension for the next offense.
The symbol — three arrows pointing southwest — represents an anti-Nazi paramilitary organization founded in Germany in the 1930s. Historical websites vary on the specific meaning, but it’s broadly accepted as anti-fascist.
MLS commissioner Don Garber reiterated his league’s stance and was in attendance at Providence Park on Friday for another wave of protests, this time before a nationally televised ESPN audience.
The Timbers Army didn’t display its traditional tifo (signage) and joined the Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC in an extended moment of silence to protest the perception of inconsistencies in MLS policies, including the Iron Front ban. None of the supporters groups engaged in organized chants, songs, choreography, flag-waving or playing of instruments until 33 minutes showed on the game clock to commemorate 1933, the year the Iron Front was disbanded in Nazi Germany.
“Very unique,” Morris said. “We expect to come in and hear that noise and when it came on in that 33rd minute, it was pretty special.”
Once the silence was broken, Iron Front flags were spotted in each supporters group section, and the Timbers Army opened its chants with an Italian song about being anti-fascist, according to members.
“The Timbers Army, Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC stand in solidarity against fascism, against racism, against hate and against intolerance,” read a joint statement from the supporters groups.
The unity trickled into the night even though the match created some needed separation for the Sounders (12-8-7) in the Western Conference standings. The Sounders picked up three points with the win, moving Seattle back to second place with 43 total.
Portland (11-11-4) remains in the running for the seventh and final playoff spot in the West.
“I was proud of the guys to do the ceremony before the game,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “This win was good for a lot of different reasons. Cascadia Cup, my sanity, the coaches’ sanity, the players’ sanity, the fans’ sanity. For a lot of different reasons, this was a big performance, a gutty performance. That’s the Seattle Sounders.”