By José Miguel Romero
Sounders FC @ Portland, 7 p.m., FSN
The word rivalry brings to mind thoughts of bitter, hard-fought battles against a hated adversary.
Think Huskies-Ducks in football. Yankees-Red Sox in baseball. Or any one of the countless derbies in soccer's English Premier League, crosstown clashes between teams and their fans.
Then there's Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders.
True, the Portland-Seattle matches in the heyday of the North American Soccer League made for a natural rivalry, but this one was largely good-natured. The Timbers and Sounders, who face each other today as a United Soccer Leagues First Division club and Sounders FC of Major League Soccer, were two teams made up of mostly English and Scottish players who knew each other for years in their homelands and wound up playing against each other on pitches in the Northwest.
That made for games that were tough and competitive, but more like friend vs. friend than foe vs. foe.
"It was always a great rivalry," former NASL Sounder Jeff Stock recalled. "The crowds got into it, but the players respected each other. I liked the guys I was playing against."
Stock's most vivid memory of playing the Timbers was an own goal he scored for Portland in a 2-1 loss at Civic Stadium, now PGE Park and still home of the Timbers. He said the fans in the Rose City in the late 1970s and early 1980s were hostile but respectful. And after the game, players and fans of both teams would get together and relive the night.
"There was a bar across the street, and you'd mingle with other players," said Stock, who now owns a coffee company and real-estate properties. "It was like playing against friends. You wanted to beat them, but afterward it's over."
Seattle, Portland and the Vancouver Whitecaps would play each other twice a year. Sounders and Timbers players would reunite, even talk about their lives and families during games. Fans would travel up and down Interstate 5 to follow their teams, a situation that will arise again in 2011 when Vancouver and Portland join Sounders FC in MLS.
Jimmy McAlister preceded Stock at left fullback for the NASL Sounders and remembers being sent off during one game in Portland, and having Timber Jim, the Timbers' mascot, following him off the field toward the locker room while revving his signature chain saw. The Portland fans were vicious on the north end of the stadium — still the case today — but nowhere to be found on the south side because there were no bleachers on that end.
"It was for bragging rights in the area. Somebody would come up with a cup [trophy]," McAlister, who now runs a soccer academy in Puyallup, said of Sounders-Timbers games. "We would have our own postgame parties in Portland and Vancouver with our fans."
Nobody misses the horrible playing surfaces of those days. Civic Stadium had a crown and it was used for football and baseball. Even Sounders players didn't like the Kingdome's artificial turf, and the field of its previous home, Memorial Stadium, was even worse, said Brian Schmetzer, a former NASL Sounder who is now a Sounders FC assistant coach.
"There was a huge rivalry with Portland, but [games with Vancouver] had that little bit of extra flair," Schmetzer said. "It was a little bit bigger with the Whitecaps, but not for any particular reason."