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Cascadia Cup, Round Two: The Greatest Rivalry Continues

"Welcome to Cascadia" banner at Victoria Highlanders v. Port Vale
"Welcome to Cascadia" banner at Victoria Highlanders v. Port Vale

The Cascadia Cup is the greatest soccer rivalry in Canada or the United States.

It features two of North America's historic best teams in the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps. It features, by common consensus, three of the five best fanbases. Seattle, Vancouver, and the Portland Timbers share bonds of geography, society, and history. Fans have been traveling between the cities cheering on their teams since before the derby had a name, over five decades and five leagues.

When the Whitecaps play the Portland Timbers tomorrow at Jeld-Wen Field, it'll be an event for fans around the country to enjoy. You can keep el Clasico: big-money teams hurling multi-millionaires at each other to sort out a grudge that long ago got beyond the scope of the common fan. The Cascadia Cup is the best advertisement MLS could possibly have.

2011 Cascadia Cup Standings
Seattle 3 1 2 0 6 5
Vancouver 1 0 1 0 2 2
Portland 2 0 1 1 3 4
The team with the best win-draw-loss record against the other two Cascadia teams shall win the Cascadia Cup. Portland is defending champion.

The three Cascadia teams always play each other hard. There have been important games beyond counting between the three teams, including two consecutive years of Vancouver - Portland playoff duels. This year, Seattle has been by far the best of the three teams while Portland is marginally competitive and Vancouver... is Vancouver. Yet all three Cascadia Cup games so far have been first-class; Portland and Vancouver both drew in Seattle while the Sounders got a furiously-contested win in Portland.

Players rise for the occasion as well as fans do. Don't be fooled: even the most experienced player can tell when there's extra electricity in the air, when a win in Portland counts more than two wins in Vancouver.

In 2009, the Portland Timbers had a first-class season: after finishing dead last in 2008 Portland won 16 games while losing only 4 and wound up at the top of the table. Their second-round playoff opponent was the Vancouver Whitecaps, who snuck into the playoffs ahead of the Minnesota Thunder: Portland won two of three games against Vancouver that regular season. Yet the two pulled off an all-time classic of a playoff series. Vancouver won the first leg 2-1 at Swangard Stadium despite losing Marco Reda just before half to a red card on goals from Charles Gbeke and Marcus Haber. The finale in Portland was a see-saw affair: Haber gave Vancouver an insurance goal early but a brace from Brian Farber saw Portland level the series. After half, Martin Nash and Marlon James scored to put Vancouver further in front, but Alex Nimo got an 83rd-minute goal past Jay Nolly and the Timbers spent the rest of the game on a furious attack. The Whitecaps just escaped with an immortal 5-4 aggregate win despite being by far Portland's lesser as a team. That's Cascadia.

It's a very North American sort of rivalry. In spite of the paranoid hyper-precautions of team front offices relations are very cordial between Sounders supporters and Whitecaps supporters. They're downright friendly between Timbers supporters and Whitecaps supporters. Some Vancouver Southsiders in Portland tomorrow will be attending a Timbers Army home-brewed beer gathering before the game, then afterwards heading to the "Support Our Abe" gathering to help a long-time Timbers Army fixture raise money to pay medical bills. In between, they'll be escorted by police and private security into Jeld-Wen Field to protect them from the very Timbers fans they were just drinking beers with.

But the rivalry is no less fierce for the friendship of the supporters. Upwards of a thousand Whitecaps fans of all stripes will be heading south to Portland tomorrow; nearly 500 through the club-supported Uniglobe ticket package as well as an unknown but significant number with independent tickets. A similar number voyaged to Qwest Field earlier this summer to watch Eric Hassli make Kasey Keller famous. There'll be just as many Sounders and Timbers fans streaming north when the time comes, not to mention many times that number watching from home and taking the piss for one of the matches of the season. And that's without considering the Timbers-Sounders rivalry, which makes anything involving the Whitecaps look like an elementary school track meet.

Cascadia Cup Champions
Vancouver 2004, 2005, 2008
Seattle 2006, 2007
Portland 2009, 2010

The Cascadia Cup itself dates back to 2004, when all three teams were in the United Soccer Leagues, but the rivalry is as old as the region. It's only gotten bigger with every year since. Some Seattle fans will insist the 2009 and 2010 Cascadia Cups "don't count" because the Sounders were alone in Major League Soccer, but these fans are wrong. The Cascadia Cup has been about supporters since day one and, in 2010, Timbers fans packed Swangard Stadium while Vancouver fans filled PGE Park with their songs caring hardly a whit that Seattle wasn't around to enjoy it.

A lot has been expected in Portland and Vancouver in their moves to MLS. We were told to expect bigger crowds, better teams, more media coverage, more support. Much of that has materialized, although Whitecaps fans are still waiting for the "better team" part. One thing that we haven't seen, though, is an improvement on the Cascadia Cup. Fans have had ticket purchases restricted and been slapped with "security" restrictions to hold off a hooliganism problem that doesn't actually exist.

But how could we expect the Cascadia Cup to improve? It's already the greatest six games in North American league soccer. Any more would be superfluous.