Tonight in Portland, thanks to the magic that is the US Open Cup, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders will renew their intense rivalry. Longtime adversaries in the USL, A-League, and NASL, the Timbers and Sounders don't generally get along.
In fact, the regional derby might be the singularly most intense in American soccer.
Seattle's "promotion" to MLS put things on hold for a spell, and it's wasn't a guarantee that the two clubs would meet again until the Timbers move up themselves in 2011; but with the US Open Cup involving teams from both USL and MLS, the regional match ups the tournament provides, and each team taking care of their preceding matches to get to this point, the rivalry is back in full effect.
While I abhor the fan violence and discourage it at every turn, I do appreciate the passion that can be behind it's potential. Both the Sounders fans and the Timbers fans care about their clubs desperately, and it would be difficult to argue that's a bad thing as long as no one gets hurt.
More than just a chance to renew a rivalry, tonight's Timbers-Sounders match represents a chance to see soccer at it's most appealing. Thousands of fans singing, chanting, waving flags, and exhorting their team on to victory at any cost; I might even argue that there's not a sports atmosphere in America that can compare the total package that tonight's game will produce. Sure, more mainstream American sports get larger crowds, and there are clearly rivalries that have more history and just as much intensity; but for those of us that love this sport, little can compare to soccer for the passion of its fans and the energy of its best environments.
Disagree with me or not about its place in the wider sports picture, tonight's match should be the best American soccer has to offer. As much as we hope it was so, packed houses of people who care desperately on both sides simply aren't common enough in this country to make this game a normal occurrence. I'm looking forward to this game for the energy it will possess and the passion that it will display more than I am for the play on the field; while I expect the Timbers and Sounders to battle it out until the last minute, I have and will see many games like it this year. What I won't see is anything that matches it for what it will provide off the field.
It's a pity this game isn't not being broadcast nationally. It's too bad that so many people will miss out on the showcase of American soccer because the game will only be broadcast on the relatively unknown USL Live for most of us. But at least it's there.
I wouldn't want to miss it.
As our man Ginge said on the MFUSA Soccer Show only a few weeks back; tonight you will see why MLS needs Portland. Now if they could just get that damn stadium renovation fund figured out.
Oh, and I just had to share this: Apparently there was a battle over who gets to wear green for this match. Neither team wanted to back down. How fantastic is that?