Otto Greule Jr - Getty Images
The Portland Timbers are in full control of their fate this weekend, needing just one point from Seattle in order to clinch the Cascadia Cup.
If the Timbers were to clinch the Cup on Sunday, it would be their first trophy as an MLS team -- a significant milestone.
Even if 2012 weren't a complete disaster and the Timbers were currently competing for a playoff spot with hopes alive for the MLS Cup, winning the Cascadia Cup would still be a huge deal. October 7, 2012, is a date that has been circled on Timbers fans' calendars since the start of the season -- even without knowing how our year would go, we knew how important this Sunday would be.
So yeah, it's an important trophy, simply for the fact that it would be our first. But there's so much more to it than that.
There are some folks out there, Sounders fans in particular, who already deride the 2012 Cascadia Cup competition as a nothing more than a potential consolation prize for lowly Portland -- something the high and mighty Seattle Sounders can't be bothered with.
Many fans of the Portland Timbers, myself included, remember holding a similar attitude towards the Cascadia Cup back in 2004. That was the year the Timbers won the Commissioner's Cup (retroactively, since the Commissioner's Cup wasn't revived until 2005), finishing the season with a full ten more points than the second place Vancouver Whitecaps. But it was the Whitecaps, not the Timbers, who took the first ever Cascadia Cup that year.
"I'd certainly rather have the league's best record," many of us snooted.
The Timbers went on to lose the next four Cups as well, twice each to the Sounders and the Whitecaps. Other team accomplishments aside, the knowledge that no years had yet been affixed to the trophy under our team's name had begun to torment us.
So naturally, the Timbers responded with two Cup victories in consecutive years. Nice work. And now, two years later, a Timbers victory in 2012 would bring balance to the Cup, three years etched under each team.
Simple as that. End of story. No need to read further.
Negating the Dreaded Asterisk
Well, except for those big, fat, imaginary asterisks next to the two years listed in Portland's column on the Cup.
Portland's wins came in the two years in which Seattle was not a competitor, because they abandoned the tradition in 2009 to join MLS. Sounders fans waste few opportunities to draw attention to those metaphorical asterisks, because they mean the Timbers have never beaten the Sounders in pursuit of a Cascadia Cup.
A 2012 Cup victory for the Timbers, which would require winning the season series with Seattle, would go a long way towards silencing those nitpickers to the north.
But there is another asterisk our detractors would almost certainly apply if the Timbers were to win this year's competition. This new asterisk would represent the unbalanced schedule that has given the Timbers a home field advantage this year.
The Timbers have hosted four out of their six Cascadia Cup matches and taken a total of eight points from those games, or 2.0 home points per match (ppm). The Sounders, on the other hand, have been on the road for four out of their six Cascadia matches, taking just three points from those matches, or 0.75 away ppm.
If the Timbers should draw on Sunday and lose to Vancouver, yes they would win the Cup, but they would end up with just 0.5 away ppm, inviting Sounders fans to complain that the Timbers would not have won the Cup if not for their home field advantage.
More talk of asterisks. More eye rolls from Timbers supporters.
On the other hand, a Timbers win on Sunday would guarantee Portland at least 1.5 away ppm to Seattle's 0.75, at the same time as it would hand the Sounders a 1.5 home ppm to Portland's 2.0 home ppm. Such a resounding victory would surely silence the Sounders.
But Portland wouldn't even necessarily have to win to overcome the home field advantage complaints -- a draw each against Seattle and Vancouver would be sufficient. That would leave Seattle with a 1.0 home ppm and a 0.75 away ppm, while Portland ended with a 2.0 home ppm and a 1.0 away ppm.
"Kiss my asterisk," a Timbers Army two-stick might read.
Any discussion of why winning the Cascadia Cup would be so important to Timbers fans must include the opposite perspective: if the Timbers win, that means the Sounders lose. It's like two wins in one. (Sadly we were denied the opportunity to eliminate the Whitecaps this year; oh well.)
That would be an especially satisfying double-whammy in a year when the Sounders could potentially finish the season in second place, and the Timbers have no business winning anything at all. To beat our hated rival and win the Cup under such circumstances? Simply delightful.
That's not to say a victory Sunday should make us feel any better about this lost season, or chase away our concerns about the direction of the organization. But the Timbers' poor showing in their first two years is, we hope, a temporary issue; a Cup win holds meaning beyond its years.
It would allow Timbers fans in five years to look back on 2012 and say, "Yeah, we sucked pretty bad that year. But we still won the Cascadia Cup."