A trip down the I-5

On Saturday May 14th, the first game of this year’s Cascadia Cup was played between Seattle Sounders FC and Portland Timbers at Qwest Field, and it did not disappoint. A sellout crowd witnessed the unveiling of a gigantic, nine-part display celebrating Sounders players and coaches of the past and present. That was followed by a fantastic atmosphere and a thrilling 1-1 tie.

This weekend, our Vancouver Whitecaps FC team travel down the I-5 to face Seattle in a game that has been marked on my and many other fans schedules since the fixtures were announced. There is no doubt in my mind that players on both teams are looking forward to this game too.

I have played in a number of Whitecaps-Sounders derby games and I have to admit, I got much pleasure in defeating our rivals and I hated losing to them. The trips to Seattle were always special and it was fantastic to see the number of Vancouver fans who’d follow us across the border to watch the game. Our travelling supporters would always do their best to be louder than the Seattle fans, creating an electric atmosphere.

My fondest memory was a game we played in 1982. The Sounders had a chance to wrap up the North American Soccer League Western Division crown at home against us, their arch rivals from Vancouver. There were close to 30,000 fans packed into the Kingdome, most of whom were cheering for the home side and hoping to celebrate a division title.

Seattle took the lead through Peter Ward, but yours truly scored the equalizing goal on a header (yes, it really happened!). We entered the last minute of the game tied, which would have given Seattle the title. But with the final whistle yet to be blown, we were given a free-kick on the edge of the Sounders box with Peter Lorimer standing over the ball waiting to take the kick. Lorimer had one of the hardest shots in the game, so everyone – including myself – was expecting one of his thunder foot specials. With everyone expecting a rocket, Peter surprised our opponents as he ran up to the ball and chipped a delicate shot into the top corner of the Sounders net, rooting Seattle’s goalkeeper Paul Hammond to the spot. It ended up being the last kick of the game and when I looked up to their giant scoreboard, it read Seattle Sounders 1 - Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2. They did clinch the division on the last game of the season, but not on our watch.

Major League Soccer has indicated on many occasions that the Cascadia Cup and the rivalry between Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Seattle Sounders FC and Portland Timbers has the potential to be the best and most heated set of rivalries in the league. After watching Seattle in MLS the past two years, we now get to renew our acquaintances with them. Eras may have changed, but like always, we look forward to having bragging rights after we leave Qwest Field on Saturday.

Odds makers may not put the match in our favour right now, but past results get thrown out the window when you’re playing in derby games. I have played in enough rivalry games to know that these games are very different for players. Though players may respond with the standard answer that it is just another game, I assure you that it is not. The atmosphere is different, the build-up to the game is different, the media attention is different, and the importance for fans is different – something that does not get lost on the players.

The intensity in these games is higher, and this usually means a low scoring scrappy game with lots of meaty tackles going in.

The Whitecaps and Sounders have played a total of 122 total matches since 1974, which is the most by any two cities in that span. It is great to see the heights that Seattle have reached recently, but Whitecaps FC are also striving to become a top side and are working tirelessly to match and eventually surpass their bitter rivals. Getting a win on Saturday would be a good start to becoming the best team on the West Coast, and an important step towards reclaiming the Cascadia Cup.