An Intense Soccer Rivalry in the U.S.? You Bet.

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Three hours. That’s all that separates two fierce rivals.

The Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers have been playing each other for 40 years in four different leagues in what has become the best and most intense rivalry in Major League Soccer. And on April 26, the two clubs met for the latest round on a chilly but clear night in Seattle.

Members of the Timbers Army (an independent fan group) had traveled 175 miles up Interstate 5 to see their team knock off their bitter rivals on the road, while the Emerald City Supporters (the Army’s counterpart) were chanting and singing, defending their turf. In a chippy and physical game in which a total of four yellow cards were handed out, the Sounders battled to a 1-0 win.

The Sounders were very aggressive throughout, while the Timbers played much more conservatively. Seattle’s tactics paid off on a Clint Dempsey goal in the 77th minute. 

“It was kind of a scrappy game,” Dempsey said in the locker room afterward. “They made it difficult for us to try to create chances. We just kept pushing, kept fighting.” 

Dempsey has now scored six goals against Portland in just four matches since the start of the 2014 season. Said Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso of Dempsey, “He always, in this type of [rivalry] game, scores and gives the team enough to win the game, and he did it tonight.”

Though the teams are at the core of the rivalry, the fans are what make it truly special. The Emerald City Supporters and Timbers Army help make up two of the most passionate fan bases in the world, and attendance is on par with teams in Spain’s La Liga and the Barclays Premier League in England. If the Sounders played in those leagues, they would have ranked fourth and sixth respectively in attendance in 2013–14. 

“It’s always a treat when the Timbers come to town,” said Seattle resident and Sounders fan Jack Bennett. “Both sides are always playing their hardest, and the fans are riled up. Everyone’s ready for a battle.”

“I absolutely think this is the best rivalry in MLS,” added Lucas Gardner, a native of Tukwila, Washington. “I think it’s the passionate fans that make it so. Though both clubs are outstanding, there is no match for an energetic crowd.”

The Sounders were formed in the North American Soccer League in 1974, and the Timbers were founded shortly after in 1975, though both had folded by 1983.

Two years later, both Seattle and Portland were granted expansion franchises in the Western Soccer Alliance. Beginning in 2001, the two teams, finally playing again as the Timbers and Sounders, enjoyed a seven-year rivalry in the United Soccer League, which folded in 2008. 

The Sounders made the jump to MLS in 2009 and were followed two years later by the Timbers. 

In the 12 professional matches played between the two sides, the Sounders have won six, the Timbers have won two, and four have ended in draw. 

Both clubs have something to prove this season. Seattle is out to defend its 2014 Supporters Shield (awarded to the team with the most points at the end of the regular season), while the Timbers look to make the playoffs after barely missing them last year.

Not only are these rivalry games important for bragging rights, they also tend to be very entertaining. In the teams’ three matchups last year, they scored 16 goals (Seattle accounting for 10 of them). Their first meeting ended in a 4–4 draw, and the Sounders took the next two meetings, 2–0 and 4–2.

Their next matchup is scheduled for June 28 in Portland, so the Timbers will get a shot at redemption in front of their home faithful.

The rivalry between Seattle and Portland is one of the best in sports because it has everything a fan could want: history, passion, entertainment, and energy. And it doesn’t stay on the pitch. And like every other great rivalry — Yankees/Red Sox, Steelers/Ravens, Bruins/Canadiens — the competition runs deep into the opposing fans, into the cities themselves.

Photos: Ted S. Warren/AP

seattle sounders portland timbers mls
seattle sounders portland timbers mls