Soccer fans in the Pacific Northwest have gathered over the past few weeks in bars and cafes, or hooked up their ESPN3-streaming computers to their television sets, to watch the impressive quality of soccer being played in Poland and Ukraine. From Greece's unlikely upset of Russia to squeak into the knockout stage, to the calm confidence Germany exerted over their "Group of Death," Euro has not disappointed this year. And for the two more weeks the quality of that play will only continue to improve, as the knockout stage further whittles away the competition.
Sadly for us, though, the quality on display in Europe has been a rude juxtaposition to the Timbers' poor showing of late, particularly in the team's loss to Cal FC. As we wallow in frustration, we're subjected to hours and hours of the greatest soccer on the planet, just to drive home the point.
Adding even more to the frustration, we see our fellow sports fans getting excited about the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup, or Matt Cain's recent perfect game. Fans of the other four major North American sports get to watch their home teams play against (and occasionally even become) the best teams in the world. We MLS fans will likely never have that experience.
Yup, Cascadian soccer fans have it tough. Even the best team in MLS is closer in quality to the worst team in MLS than it is to the teams that play in the top leagues in Europe.
So why do we bother?
The Timbers Army created the beautiful video below before the 2011 season began, as an answer to that very question. I'm sure every Timbers fan has seen it by now, but there has seldom been a more appropriate time for a rewatch than in these dark times.
As Tip O'Neill might have said if he were a soccer fan, all soccer is local.
That is, after all, how the game originated centuries ago. If we're to believe wikipedia, the game "would be played between neighboring towns and villages, involving an unlimited number of players on opposing teams, who would clash in a heaving mass of people struggling to drag an inflated pig's bladder by any means possible to markers at each end of a town." Honestly, all that isn't much less civilized than what usually happens when Sounders fans crowd into the southwest corner of Jeld Wen Field.
That tradition of neighboring towns sorting out their disagreements on the soccer field lives on in most of the world today. Most soccer fans in the world are like us Cascadians. Most don't live in Manchester, Barcelona or Munich. To the vast majority of soccer fans around the world, as to us, the highest quality of world soccer won't ever come anywhere near their home stadium.
Most people don't watch the game at Allianz Arena or Emirates Stadium. Their teams will never be featured on Sky Sport or its equivalents elsewhere in the world. And yet 10,000 people will still come out to watch Southend-on-Sea take on Shrewsbury Town. 20,000 will make their way downtown to watch the Portland Timbers play the Seattle Sounders. Most of the world's soccer fans are just like this: cheering for their local sides all the same, regardless of what league their teams play in or where they finish in the table.
The English Premiership, Serie A, the Champions League, etc. -- these are the outliers in the world of soccer. They are all the commercial inventions of Italian and English media moguls, Russian oligarchs, and American baseball team owners. The huge amounts of money they throw around, often illegally, taint the beauty of this sport.
No, it's the Cascadia Cup, and derbies like it throughout the world, that are the far more meaningful and genuine expressions of the beautiful game.
We aren't spoiled with the world's best players. We aren't pampered by season after season of league dominance. We don't love this team because they always win. We love it because it's ours, it plays in our storied stadium, and its players give their all against our bitter rivals to the north.
What's not to love?