Flags will wave, songs will be sung, and the green smoke from flares will waft into the sky today as Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers renew the most passionate rivalry in Major League Soccer.
All of it will play out before a sellout crowd at Jeld-Wen Field, and also a national TV audience on NBC.
The 12:30 p.m. kickoff will mark the first over-the-air network broadcast of an MLS game since 2008. That’s longer than either the Sounders or Timbers have been in the league, but their pairing for NBC’s inaugural MLS broadcast was no accident.
“It was a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned, because NBC – going into Major League Soccer for the first time – they had to show at least one Cascadia derby between Seattle and Portland,” said Arlo White, the voice of the Sounders in 2010-11 before leaving to become the voice of NBC soccer. “The people who select the games know exactly how big this game is; and what great television visually and from an audio point of view, and from an on-field-battling point of view.”
The last MLS match to be broadcast on a major network was the 2008 MLS Cup final, when Columbus – led then by current Sounders coach Sigi Schmid – defeated New York, 3-1.
There will be two more MLS matches on NBC this season: Chicago at New York on Oct. 6, and New York at Philadelphia on Oct. 27.
Today, NBC is counterprogramming an autumn afternoon of NCAA football including Alabama-Arkansas, Texas A&M-SMU and even Portland State-Washington with a domestic soccer match unlike anything else on the dial.
“It’s a tough time of year with college football on a Saturday afternoon, of course, but this is a tremendous opportunity for the league to be showcased on this platform,” White said. “Hopefully when the lay sports fan flips around on a Saturday afternoon and comes across this wild noise and this terrific game is going on, they’ll stick with it. It’s going to be a long process, but it may be the first step along the way to converting a few sports fans – or even soccer fans – into Major League Soccer fans. And I think that’s vital.”
The Sounders-Timbers rivalry has simmered and bubbled and boiled across 37 years, five leagues and 77 matches, with Seattle leading the all-time series 40-28-9.
The series is even at 1-1-1 since the clubs brought their rivalry to MLS last season.
Perhaps more important, the Timbers won the first of this season’s three matches, 2-1, on June 24. That helped put them in position to clinch the 2012 Cascadia Cup competition between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver with a victory today.
With Portland’s playoff hopes down to the faintest of fumes, those Northwest bragging rights may be the No. 1 goal remaining in the club’s second MLS season.
“The Cascadia Cup is ... a fan-based competition that also means an awful lot to the organization and the players,” said Portland general manager and interim coach Gavin Wilkinson, who also coached in this rivalry during its USL days. “For that to happen to this organization, it’s just another box we can tick off to say, ‘Yes, we’ve done that. Now we can more forward.’ I’m sure everybody in the Northwest understands the importance of this competition.”
The Sounders have even more to play for. A win today would help them with Western Conference seeding and the Supporters’ Shield race, as well as pull them even with Portland in the defense of the Cup they brought home to Seattle in 2011.
“We’re not ready to give the Cascadia Cup away yet,” Schmid said. “Our objective is to always win our head-to-head series, to win season series with teams, and this is a season series we still want to win. We’re not going to give it away.”
SOUNDERS FC (13-6-8; 47 POINTS) AT PORTLAND TIMBERS (7-14-6; 27)
12:30 p.m., Jeld-Wen Field, Portland
TV: Ch. 5. RADIO: 97.3-FM, 99.3-FM (Spanish).
CLUB LEADERS: For Seattle – G 13, Eddie Johnson; A 13, Mauro Rosales; S 98, Fredy Montero; SOG 36 Montero; GAA 0.74, Michael Gspurning. For Portland – G 7, Kris Boyd; A 6, Eric Alexander; S 62, Boyd; SOG 28, Boyd; GAA 1.80, Donovan Ricketts.
HEAD TO HEAD: Counting all leagues, Seattle leads 40-28-9. The MLS series is even, 1-1-1 overall and 1-1 in Portland. The Timbers won the June 24 meeting in Portland, 2-1. Since then, Portland has changed coaches (John Spencer then, Gavin Wilkinson now) and goalkeepers (Troy Perkins then, Ricketts now). The Timbers visit Seattle on Oct. 7.
NOTES: A Timbers win today would clinch the 2012 Cascadia Cup competition between Portland (2-0-1), Seattle (1-1-1) and Vancouver (0-2-2). ... Seattle is 3-0-1 over its past four matches, Portland is 2-1 over its past three. ... The Timbers are last in the Western Conference. They are 18th in the 19-team league in goal differential (minus-19) and goals allowed (1.04), and 17th in goals scored (27) and goals average (1.0). ... Midfielders Rosales (quadriceps) and Christian Tiffert (ankle) are game-time decisions. Midfielder Mario Martinez (Honduras) and defender Adam Johansson (Sweden) are expected to be available after returning from national team duty. ... Portland’s Mike Fucito was a Sounder from 2009-11. Timbers forward Brent Richards is a native of Camas and attended UW. ... The Portland weather forecast calls for 73 degrees and sunny. ... This will be the Timbers’ 32nd consecutive sellout since joining MLS. ... Portland defender Steven Smith will miss the game due to caution accumulation. Montero, Johnson and Portland’s Jack Jewsbury are one yellow card away from suspension ... The referee is Ricardo Salazar. Salazar worked the previous Seattle-Portland match, and also Seattle’s U.S. Open Cup loss at Kansas City.
QUOTABLE: “Their field is a little more compact, a little smaller, so it lends to a little more physical nature of play. So, we hope that doesn’t become an issue in the game. I don’t think it will. I think they’re going to go out, they’re going to play hard, and they’re going to try and win the game.” – Seattle coach Sigi Schmid.
NEXT: The Sounders return to CONCACAF Champions League play Wednesday at Marathon of Honduras. They return to MLS play Sept. 22 when league-leading San Jose visits CenturyLink Field.firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8808 blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt email@example.com