I've been saving this edition of the "Teaching Timbers" series for this moment because, well, this is when it's most appropriate. As we head into the weekend's match up to watch our own Portland Timbers boys take on our northern neighbors, the Seattle Sounders, there's more at stake here than three points. That's not to say the three points aren't important, it's just that we have this little regional competition played between the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps called the Cascadia Cup.
The Cascadia Cup competition has only been officially played and contested since 2004, when all three teams were a part of the USL organization. Unofficially, however, the three northwestern teams have vied for regional dominance since the days of the old North American Soccer League (NASL) in the 1970s and 1980s. It's a heated rivalry brought on by the similarities in culture, environment and general aesthetic by the three teams.
[Michael Orr, of Mao's Football Show, informed me of some early NASL cups contended between the PNW teams: Columbia Cup (vs. Vancouver '75-76), Rose Festival Cup (vs. Seattle '77-'81) & Mountain Bar Cup (vs. Seattle, '79-80)]
A Rivalry that Matters
It's easy to build up a small rivalry with this team or that team based on location, or how well the teams play against each other. It spices up the games a bit you know? Take the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls, as an example. Obviously there's no real reason why these two should be rivals other than they're both spend-happy teams based in the two largest markets, therefor MLS has manufactured a rivalry to generate ratings and increased attention from a national audience. Smart marketing, but the rivalry isn't really all that strong.In contrast, the Cascadian rivalry has a much larger meaning and impact on the denizens of each city. There's more feeling behind it because, in almost all aspects even outside of sports, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver compete with each other. It's just part of being in this wonderful region we call Cascadia.
With MLS and soccer, this is the largest way we can literally see our three cities compete directly against each other for supremacy. So, while the rivalry has always been more than just about sports, it's through our three teams that we get to physically see it play out which is exciting and unique to soccer. No other sport transcends all three cities as Vancouver has the NHL Canucks (and CFL Lions), Seattle has the MLB Mariners and NFL Sea Hawks and Portland has the NBA Trail Blazers.
While I won't go so far as to say winning the Cascadia Cup is better or more important than winning the Supporters Shield or MLS Cup, I will say that the competition for regional dominance is certainly something I'm looking forward to seeing happen each year once again. Which ever team wins will have huge bragging rights for the next year until the cup is played for again.
How It Works
Some of you who watched the Cascadia Summit pre-season might be thinking that the "tournament" for the Cascadia Cup plays in a similar manner, a la a weekend trip where all three teams play each other once. In reality this isn't what happens at all. Instead, the Cascadia Cup tournament is played throughout the regular MLS scheduled season as piecemeal, one at a time, as they occur.
It's also not really a tournament as the system is based on ponts, just like the regular season. Three points for a win, one for a draw, and zero for a loss. At the end of the season (or really at the end of the last game played by two of the Cascadian teams) the club with the most points within that tournament wins the trophy. So, for example, each team will play four times against the other two (one home, one away for both teams). Should the Portland Timbers win all four of their matches they'll have 12 points at the end of the Cascadia Cup "season."
It's fairly easy to understand once you put it within the context of the regular season as a sort of "mini season" that is neither apart nor entirely separate from the regular schedule.
Two Minor Wins
Since 2004, the Timbers have, unfortunately, only won the series twice and both times it was during the years when the Sounders were already gone and in MLS thus making them not apart of the rivalry season battle at all. Essentially, we won the trophy when it was easiest to win it.
These are still legitimate trophy wins, no matter what some Sounders fans say, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that not winning the trophy when all three teams weren't playing in the rivalry wasn't a little disheartening.
The Portland Timbers are currently: 10 - 17 - 15 (W-L-D) since the competitions origins in 2004 meaning the team is far behind in the "wins" column and will remain a significant source of ammo until the trophy is won against all three teams in regular season play.
As we look toward Saturday's game, this is much more than merely another MLS game. There is pride on the line. No matter how much Sounders fans want to impress upon the Timbers that they're the better team, no matter how much they want to convince us that they're the only true MLS Cup contenders this year, they can't back anything up until they've won that trophy.
It's also worth noting that whoever wins this weekend's game will be ahead in the standings as both teams are currently neck in neck at 13 points a piece with Seattle have a slight edge in goal differential.
Saturday's game kicks off on ESPN2 at 8:00 PM. Don't miss it!
P.S. We'll have continuing previews, analysis and coverage of this weekend's Cascadia Cup game throughout the week.