VANCOUVER, BC – Pass the popcorn.
After earning their first-ever playoff win in a 5-0 win over San Jose Earthquakes, Vancouver Whitecaps FC host longtime rivals and defending MLS Cup champions Seattle Sounders FC in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals on Sunday at BC Place (5:30 p.m. PT kickoff – tickets moving fast). This has just about everything you’d want in a playoff matchup.
Bad blood? You can say that again.
It’s the latest chapter in a heated rivalry that spans more than four decades. And it has the makings of a truly unforgettable occasion. Here’s why I’m excited – and why you should be too.
Seattle finished second in the Western Conference this season – one point ahead of Vancouver.
The two teams split the season series with 1W-1L-1D records, but in the playoffs, all that goes out the window. As Seattle showed last year, when they finished fourth in the West en route to the club’s first-ever MLS Cup, the playoffs are a new beast altogether.
Can the ‘Caps knock off the defending champs and advance to the Western Conference Final for the first time in club history?
Most pundits will say it’s a longshot, but don’t tell that to Carl Robinson.
“They’re the champs. I like knocking champs off perches,” Robinson told TSN following Wednesday’s win. “As I said, listen we’re the underdog. Write us off at your peril.”
The ‘Caps and Sounders were both born in 1974.
They’ve been doing battle for more than 40 years. It’s one of the longest running soccer rivalries in North America. A rivalry that saw Seattle eliminate the ‘Caps in Vancouver’s first-ever playoff appearance in the old North American Soccer League.
A rivalry that saw Willie Johnston drop his shorts and moon a Seattle player after scoring in a penalty shootout back in 1980.
A rivalry that saw an 18-year-old Kekuta Manneh become the youngest player in MLS history to record a hat-trick – in front of a hostile crowd of nearly 40,000 at CenturyLink Field, no less.
And a rivalry that saw Fredy Montero, who scored the first-ever goal for Seattle in MLS and remains their all-time leading goalscorer, trade in his Rave Green jersey for a ‘Caps one – and then score two goals in his first game against his former club.
There have been many memorable moments between the two clubs through the years. And something tells me there are a few more to come.
There’s always an extra level of intensity in games involving two Cascadia clubs – on the pitch and in the stands. These games are always the loudest and the most meaningful to supporters. And that’s taken to a whole new level in the playoffs.
Just look at 2015, when the ‘Caps hosted Portland Timbers in the club’s first-ever home playoff match in the Major League Soccer era. BC Place was absolutely bonkers. It was pretty bonkers on Wednesday night, too.
And I’d expect much of the same come Sunday.