In Jay DeMerit’s eyes, the Pacific Northwest region – otherwise known as Cascadia – is redefining what it means to be a soccer fan in North America.
Crowds in Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland – though all different – are doing their part to create a legitimate North American soccer culture, said the Whitecaps FC skipper.
“That’s a passionate fan, it’s groups chanting in numbers and creating an atmosphere that really soccer can only bring,” DeMerit told reporters Thursday at UBC.
In Vancouver, that type of atmosphere was on display last weekend at BC Place. A capacity crowd rose to their feet to cheer on the ‘Caps almost instantly after they surrendered a goal late in the match.
“Even when we go down 1-0 with 10 men in the 82nd minute, the crowd comes to life, gets behind us, trying to lift us,” defender Brad Rusin told The Province earlier in the week.
“I’ve never experienced that before. Most stadiums would be silent, people walking out the door saying the game’s over.”
The ‘Caps will experience a similar atmosphere from another perspective Saturday when they visit Portland’s JELD-WEN Field – or what DeMerit referred to as a “jungle.”
DeMerit won’t be in the lineup this weekend, as he continues to recover from a ruptured Achilles tendon, but the former U.S. national team defender knows the importance of such games.
“These are the away grounds you want to go and try to compete in and really give you a marker of where you’re at as a team,” he said. “For us, it’s about excitement. It’s not about intimidation.”
Or as midfielder Russell Teibert put it, “it’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Portland’s “Timbers Army” has a reputation of being one of the most “ruckus” crowds in Major League Soccer, according to Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Brad Knighton.
The ‘Caps shotstopper knows all about Portland’s hostile crowd, having played part of a season with the USL Timbers in 2008.
“The stadium is right on top of you,” he said. “You kind of sit in a bowl and the crowd is right there at your back. You go to Seattle and it’s a more open environment … this is a more hostile environment to go into. It’s going to be a good test for us.”
As an opposing team, playing in that type of setting presents a golden opportunity, he said.
“I think anyone on this team and anyone that plays professional sports wants to go to a hostile environment and see how quickly they can silence the crowd,” said Knighton. “For us, that’s what we’re looking to do.”
The ‘Caps currently hold the edge in the Cascadia Cup standings with a 1W-1L-1D record.
Over 750 Whitecaps FC supporters will be making the trek down the I-5 to witness firsthand the 75th all-time meeting between the long-time rivals.
“Our fan support is going to be there just as loud and we’re going to hear them in the corner,” Knighton said. “They’re going to be cheering us on and we’re going to have them on our backs all night and looking to carry them and get them celebrating in Portland.”