Tomorrow night, the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps will play each other for the first time since both teams made the move up to Major League Soccer. Even though Portland and Vancouver are way out of the playoff picture, this latest chapter of the Cascadia Cup rivalry will be entertaining to watch nonetheless.
When I traveled to the Pacific Northwest earlier this summer, I thought it would be fun to try to compare the soccer rivalries out there to the sports rivalries that have helped make Philadelphia fans so famous over the years. It turned out that I found quite a few people who were able to put the two sets of cities in context with each other.
And it proves yet again that you can find people from the Philadelphia area just about anywhere you'll ever go.
The story begins with a live chat that I did during a Flyers playoff game here on Philly.com this past spring. I don't remember exactly which game it was, but as with so many of our live game chats in every sport, there were readers from a wide range of places.
I regularly come across people from Florida, Arizona and California, just to name a few states. And we've had Phillies fans check in from other countries, from a transplant in Brazil to an Army member serving in Iraq.
On this particular night, a reader came by who is also a diehard soccer fan: Seattle resident Colin Lamont. Some of you may know him as the former head of the Seattle chapter of the American Outlaws. Although Lamont's soccer loyalties are with the Sounders, he still follows the Phillies and Flyers as closely as he can.
Since he first joined our game chats (though he had been following me on Twitter already), we've become good friends. Colin has informed me that he expects to be back in Philadelphia for a World Series parade the fall, and I am sure he will hold the Phillies to that pledge.
Another guy who I know in the Pacific Northwest who has ties to our region is someone I've introduced to you all before: Jim Serrill, the original chainsaw-wielding Portland Timbers mascot. Serrill is a native of Bucks County, and still has relatives living in our region.
I figured that if I could find a few more East Coasters in the Pacific Northwest, I could get a good sense of how the respective coastal clashes compare to each other.
Sure enough, they were standing right outside JELD-WEN Field.
I already knew that I would be meeting up with Serrill before the Sounders-Timbers game. But within minutes of arriving at the stadium, I was flagged down by a Timbers fan who recognized the hat that I was wearing. Mike Schwartz of Princeton, N.J., delivered just the perspective you would expect from a guy who grew up in the middle of the Garden State.
"New Yorkers look at Philadelphia as being provincial, in the same way that Seattle looks at Portland as being the 'younger brother' up here," Schwartz told me.
Then the trash talk really started.
"They're a little bit more manufactured than us, we're a little bit more ragtag, but we like to think that our support is a lot more authentic," he said. "The Timbers have been drawing in the tens of thousands since the old NASL days, and the USL Division 2 days, where Seattle was drawing under 1,000 people for those games."
At halftime of the Sounders-Timbers game, I met up with Lamont. We headed to the jam-packed JELD-WEN Field concourse to meet up with a friend of his, Chip Quinn. In case I needed any further proof of Quinn's South Jersey roots, I heard him shout to Lamont that he was in line to get a bottle of water from a concession stand.
You all know how he pronounced the word "water." Even though I could barely move the 20 or so feet to where Quinn was standing, I heard the accent loud and clear.
Quinn put the Sounders-Timbers rivalry in a different kind of football perspective. He drew a comparison with the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.
"Playing Dallas became a feeling that even those who didn't care caught on to - just the talk amongst Eagles fans when the Cowboys would come to town let everyone know something big was taking place," Quinn said. "You don't really have to be a giant Sounders fan or supporter to know that playing the Timbers is a whole different level of an affair."
Quinn made another point that sounded a bit familiar to me. He argued that for as passionate as the rivalry between Seattle and Portland is, it isn't completely balanced between the two cities.
"It seems that Portland is really Seattle-obsessed, and we care about Portland when we have to play them," he said. "But outside of that, we don't really think about them."
Quinn added that Portland fans "see it as a much bigger rivalry than we do, and I think that's possibly because they haven't won anything. So beating Seattle points-wise is bigger than anything that actually matters."
Now substitute New York or Dallas for Seattle, and Philadelphia for Portland. See what I mean?
(I suspect a few of you will roast me for touching a nerve there. But I couldn't help noticing the parallels.)
Quinn's next point also sounded a little bit like something I've heard before.
"The Timbers have always had great supporters, but have not gotten anything done" on the field, he said. "Whereas the Sounders always had a smaller amount of supporters, but we've got a whole trophy case full of silverware."
Given that the Eagles don't have a trophy case full of silverware, I asked whether that made the Sounders equal to the Cowboys in that department.
Quinn paused for a moment, then stated that "the Cowboys are the team I don't support."
The point was taken.
After the game, I put the rivalry comparison question to Steve Kelley, the veteran sports columnist for the Seattle Times. Kelley is a native of Wilmington, Del., and still has the accent to prove it. But he has been covering soccer for the Times since 1982, and covered the NASL-era Timbers before that.
"Well, it’s not even close to anything on the East Coast - Eagles-Giants, Flyers-Rangers, Phillies-Mets," Kelley told me. "It’s way more tranquil. It’s emotional, but you don’t get your tires slashed in the parking lot here the way you do if you have a New York license plate at the Linc."
Sounders midfielder Michael Seamon has lots of experience with rivalries on the East and West coasts. The Villanova product grew up a devoted New York sports fan in Rahway, N.J., but got plenty of experience with Philadelphia fans while on the Main line.
Seamon echoed the aforementioned familial comparison that equates Seattle with New York, and Philadelphia with Portland.
"One is bigger and has more money, and New York people would say Philadelphia is like their little brother," he said. "I’ve heard that comparison between Seattle and Portland all the time."
Where does Vancouver fit in all this? Off to the side, according to Quinn - though I highly doubt the fans at Empire Field would see things that way.
"There's no love for those in the North but it's a whole different affair than with the Timbers" Quinn said. "Sounders-Whitecaps is certainly a more 'friendly' competition in a classical sense of rivalry."
Vancouver also has a simmering trans-Canadian rivalry with Toronto FC, and with Montréal from the years when the Impact and Whitecaps were together in the second division. The trash talk north of the border will only grow louder when Montréal arrives in MLS next year.
So yes, there is plenty of enmity in the Pacific Northwest. For as nice as people are most of the time, once you get in the stands there are enough obscenities thrown around to make Ed Snider blush.
The more I have traveled up there, though, the more have come to think that there are many more similarities between the cities than there are differences.
And while I'm pretty sure all of you would be loathe to admit it, I think there are a lot of similarities between Philadelphians and New Yorkers too. Not just in the stands, but politically and sociologically as well. That's part of what makes our sporting divides as passionate as they are.
I try very hard to stay away from politics in my writing, but when you travel outside of this region, you notice quickly how people's worldviews are reflected in their daily lives.
(That is a polite way of acknowledging that Philadelphia and Dallas have next to nothing in common, and I suspect that a lot of you are just fine with that.)
I offered my theory to Serrill as I chatted with him on that Saturday morning. I disclaim that he is as peaceable a guy as you'll ever find off the field, but he's also one of the most passionate soccer fans Portland has ever known.
"Politically, Seattle and Portland have a lot in common - we're both really progressive, and we've got a lot of great ideas on how, in the macro view, everything should be done," he said. "But at the micro level, that's where the big differences come in between Portland and here, Philadelphia and New York."
After that, Serrill and I went our separate ways. A few minutes later, the JELD-WEN Field gates opened. The Timbers Army and Emerald City Supporters took up their respective corners of the stands, and within minutes the atmosphere was building towards an electrifying crescendo. It felt a little bit like Flyers-Rangers, and even more like St. Joe's-Temple basketball.
Personally, if I could pick anything to compare soccer in the Pacific Northwest to, it would be the Big 5. Although the Philadelphia-New York comparison is in some ways easier to make, I see a lot of similarities between the close-knit communities in the Cascadia Cup and the City Series.
I know that won't surprise those of you who also read my college sports blog. But for the rest of you, I'd like to propose a little cultural exchange.
If you're in the Pacific Northwest, come over here in the winter for a Big 5 game on 33rd Street. If you're in Philadelphia, take a summer weekend trip to Seattle, Portland or Vancouver. You won't be disappointed either way.