OK, it's here: gameday for the game that Northwest soccer fans have been talking about since MLS announced its expansion to Portland.
Sounders-Timbers is a rivalry unlike any other in MLS, has created a buzz unlike any in MLS, and will be played at 8 tonight before a sellout crowd at Qwest Field and before an ESPN2 audience.
So considering all that, please allow me one public post of hope and encouragement that everyone attending will continue to demonstrate that soccer enthusiasm can be intense -- even hyper-intense -- without straying over to classless and certainly stopping well short of dangerous. (The Emerald City Supporters also put out this reminder on their website.)
Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer admitted a bit of worry this week. Not about the vast majority of Sounders and Timbers fans... but about the relative few it takes to start trouble, or even the single loon it takes to throw something into the crowd or onto the pitch.
"I think we’ve got good plans in place," he said. "I think the traveling supporters from Portand, and the traveling supporters from Portland and the traveling supporters from Vancouver are all great. They’re great people and they want the right environment. But it just takes one bad egg to cause a lot of problems, so that’s always been the concern. It’s not the majority, it’s a few people who can throw things sideways pretty quickly. So, yeah, we’ve got a good security plan in place, we’ve got good arrangements between the three clubs and the supporters groups for communication of information, and some of those policies based on what’s done around the world: just making sure that people are registered, and we know who they are. But that doesn’t stop people from buying tickets on the secondary market, or again, a bad egg causing some problems. We think we’re prepared, but you can’t be 100 percent certain."
A certain amount of worry makes sense -- this is uncharted territory for MLS. But it's also nice to know that one of the primary voices of soccer in the Northwest -- the great Alan Hinton, who has playing and coaching ties reacing back four decades in Seattle, Vancouver and Tacoma -- has full faith in those who are attending tonight.
"People are talking to me about there’s going to be some fan trouble. There won’t be any fan trouble," he said. "There was never any trouble in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The fans will come in, they’ll do the best they can, they’ll cheer for their team and that’s the way it should be. And in the end, I truly believe the true-blue fans from Portland and Settle will shake hands with the opposite fans after the game like they used to do."
So, for those attending tonight, my admittedly unsolicited advice is to show up with an attitude that merges Hanauer and Hinton's: a resolve not to cross the line yourslf, keeping an appropriate dose of alertness to those around you, all leveled with a sense of respect and faith in soccer supporters wearing either scarf.
This is that very rare MLS match where the soccer fans of the United States and Canada -- and even beyond, to some degree -- will be watching. Let's give them the kind of show that can only be a good thing for the beautiful game.
"I think it’s great for the league," Hanauer said. "It’s pressure on the teams, the players. Which I think is good for our league. It’s something new in a lot of ways: The pressure on teams in Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, more so now in Toronto, some of the other markets where you’ve got more fan attention, more media attention. It’s good for the development of the players and the game in this country. If nobody cares it just doesn’t create that pressure that I think improves players … especially their mentality. And it’s just a great advertisement again for the league to have the national spotlight, and sold-out stadiums and intense rivalries. It hopefully gets eyeballs watching and butts in seats in our market and in others."