SEATTLE - APRIL 03: A general view of the pitch and stadium during the MLS game between Seattle Sounders FC against the New York Red Bulls game on April 3, 2010 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. The Red Bulls defeated the Sounders 1-0. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
What sort of writer am I? The sort who, in the week leading up to our biggest game of the MLS regular season so far, has nothing at all to say.
Well, what is there to say about the Vancouver Whitecaps these days? The news coming out of Vancouver is barely news at all (Kevin Harmse was waived? I forgot Kevin Harmse was still around!). The team is mired in a two-game streak of awful games which, in a weird way, is a nice change from a twelve-game streak of hopeful but ultimately mediocre games. Still, it leaves little room for conversation.
Heading into tomorrow's game against the Seattle Sounders, the Whitecaps are pretty clearly the worst team in Major League Soccer. We need to say it: to admit our shame deprives it of its power. Of late the Whitecaps... and I don't know whether this is because Tom Soehn is bad or Real Salt Lake is good or the moon is in the wrong phase... have been simply gawdawful. I wouldn't give them even odds against the 2010 Whitecaps and that team kinda sucked too.
So let's embrace our suckiness. Don't accept it, never do that, but acknowledge it. That's part of the reason I have so little to say about the coming Cascadia Cup. My brand of pre-game analysis often takes the form of finding a reason why Vancouver can win. Sure, it's possible for the Whitecaps to beat Qwest on their home turf; this isn't Mexico - Cuba. Yet Seattle is clearly a better team, so why worry about it or raise our blood pressure by getting our hopes up?
If the Whitecaps polish off Toronto in Voyageurs Cup II: Electric Boogaloo and grab the Cascadia Cup through some miracle, I'll consider this season a success even if we don't beat anybody else. Even if we lose 17-0 to Sporting Kansas City. Even if Teal Bunbury scores two touchdowns then powerbombs Terry Dunfield through the Spanish announcers table. The Cascadia Cup matters and being able to fend off obnoxious Seattle and Portland fans with "what's that, second place?" all winter is worth any number of losses. Obviously I'm madly hoping for a Vancouver victory on Saturday.
Though I'm not expecting one. I'm actually flying to Florida the day of the game: that's as far from Seattle as you can get while still being able to find MLS games on television. I've already resolved that I'm going to try and enjoy even a seemingly-inevitable Whitecaps defeat. The Cascadia Cup is a tournament that I desperately want the Whitecaps to win, but it's also a spectacle even for defeated fans; a spectacle we should embrace.
The Whitecaps have had a rough couple seasons in the Cascadia Cup: they haven't won since 2008 and that was their only victory in the last five competitions. The Portland Timbers beat us in the two-team Cups in 2009 and 2010 and, both years, we took our revenge by thrashing them in the playoffs like red-headed stepchildren. Sadly, a quick glance at the league table tells us that's unlikely in 2011. We'll have to actually win the Cascadia Cup if we want any measure of bragging rights.
If we can't win the Cup, can we at least beat Portland? I'd take that. The Timbers drew at Qwest, and as hapless as the Whitecaps are a draw is at least possible: Vancouver is fresh and fit, the defense is very strong, and Seattle's offense isn't exactly the Red Army. There's a 0-0 or a 1-1 in this game if the Whitecaps can find it. Of course, we'd need some upset to beat Portland: a home win and a draw at Jello Field or something. Still, that's at least within the realm of reason. Don't be fooled by Portland's recent home hot streak: this is still a team that's playing the balls off of Eric Brunner, Khalf Alhassan, and Sal Zizzo. We still made them look like a PDL team in the Cascadia Supporters Summit. It all starts with a point in Seattle, but I can see an honourable second-place finish in our future.
Naturally, if the Whitecaps keep getting 38% possession against the likes of Chivas USA, we're not beating Portland or indeed anybody else. So just in case, it's probably a good idea to have something else to enjoy if Darlington Nagbe winds up scoring a hat trick, running to Tom Soehn, and sticking a finger in his face like the number one.
Fortunately our Cascadia rivals make it easy. I've gone on the record as not being that impressed by Seattle's match-day atmosphere. It's very coordinated but has a distinct lack of spontaneity, creativity, or variety. Many of the Sounders supporters seem like they're trying to imitate die-hard supporters rather than actually being them. Still, compared to watching FC Dallas games it's a bloody shock. In any case, when there are a horde of Southsiders in your midst, you tend to raise your game. Particularly when they're cranky Southsiders who are trying to deal with a bunch of whining family-friendly-soccertainment types, just had to get over the border in a crowded bus, and spent most of the ride down the I-5 with beer.
Then there's the Timbers Army, which... well, there's no Southsider who won't say that the Timbers Army is miles ahead of us. There's no Southsider who'd be ashamed to admit it, either. There are first-division teams in Croatia which would look at the Timbers Army and say "those guys are hardcore". If I didn't hate them so much on principle, I'd think they were great.
There's a reason Cascadia Cup matches are on national television in the United States: people realize what a great show it's going to be. So do the players: avid Twitterers like Wes Knight and Jay DeMerit have been getting the gears from Sounders fans all day. They're more aware of the importance of team rivalries than fans sometimes give them credit for and even if they weren't, the warring chants at Qwest Field would soon convince them. Besides, there's still enough old Whitecaps like Wes Knight and Jay Nolly left to explain things.
Right now, a small legion of Whitecaps fans are preparing to invade Seattle for this game; some of them may already be there. These fans, from the supporters to the ordinary, are all there for one reason: a Whitecaps victory. Whether they're standing and chanting or just cheering like mad, they'll have an impact on the atmosphere all out of proportion to their numbers. The Seattle fans will rise to the occasion. Qwest Field will vibrate. I don't care how hapless the Whitecaps are: if they don't come out and respond to that, there's more wrong with this team than just skill.
The Sounders will be up for it too. Vancouver will probably lose... but that's okay. Just give us a show.