Willie Johnston
John Denniston

A memorable moment in the Whitecaps FC-Sounders FC rivalry

What makes a good rivalry? Passion, pride, and prestige are all integral ingredients, but the one thing that separates the top sports feuds from the rest is always a little bit of bad blood.

That dislike is something that has never been lacking in the Vancouver Whitecaps FC-Seattle Sounders FC derby, who face off for the first time in MLS on Saturday. (7:30 pm PT; TSN 2, listen live on TEAM 1410 or teamradio.ca)

On April 12, 1980, the Sounders traveled north of the border to play the Whitecaps at Empire Stadium. The story, however, starts two years before this match.

After qualifying for the 1978 FIFA World Cup in Argentina, members of the Scottish national team decided that any endorsement money that any of them received would go into a players’ pool and be shared amongst the group. However, some of the players on the team later found out that their captain – and English-born player – Bruce Rioch had kept some of his money for himself, much to the disappointment of his teammates.

On that Scottish team was 'Wee' Willie Johnston (pictured above), who was never shy to express himself. In 1979, Johnston joined Whitecaps FC. The next year, Rioch joined Sounders FC. That set the stage for the two to face off.

The 1980 season started off in different directions for the two clubs, as the Whitecaps dropped their first two matches, while the Sounders won their first two. Vancouver, however, entered the match against Seattle as defending champions after famously laying claim to the 1979 Soccer Bowl, and the Sounders were hungry to crush their rivals.

The match played out in usual derby fashion. The heated, hard-nosed affair finished as a 0-0 stalemate after regulation. However, because there were no ties in NASL – only wins and losses – the encounter went to a 30-minute mini-game before eventually concluding with a shootout.

The last man up in the shootout for Vancouver was none other than Johnston. The Scotsman promptly fired home the winner, but before making it back to his teammates, he had a special delivery for his old friend on the Sounders.

“He was jogging back to our bench, but on the way, he had to go past the Seattle bench,” remembers Whitecaps FC legend Carl Valentine. “He stopped, dropped his shorts, and mooned the Seattle bench.

“When I spoke to Willie afterwards, he said that it was for Bruce Rioch.”

Losing to their rivals in such fashion was surely a bitter pill to swallow for Seattle. Vancouver, on the other hand?

They were over the moon.