On a sun-splashed summer afternoon with raucous fans rumbling the rafters during a tied 2-2 Sounders vs. Timbers game in Portland, passion in the Pacific Northwest picked up where it left off the last time these two major league soccer fan bases put on the gloves several decades ago.
Actually junior level matches have been going on for years, but this one reminded fans of dozens of matches back in the '70s at tiny Memorial Stadium in Seattle during the old NASL days with the goofy balls featuring the American red white & blue stars.
Fifteen thousand fans packed the stands back then, making the tight confines in the shadow of the Space Needle rock like any football venue in the Old County, which was rare for a sport that the rest of the nation did not understand.
But as special as it was all those years ago, it was no match for the wild new atmosphere of Portland's urban stadium setting of a former minor league baseball park transformed in a modern MLS pitch.
Painted and costumed fans spent the afternoon swaying and jumping to song chants and general debauchery as Portland tried to put on a better spectator show than Seattle's well known feats at Qwest Field.
Still the fluttering “King of Clubs” banner claim at the start of the match was an eye-roller for Seattle fans, accustomed to marching and chanting through the streets of Seattle before every game with 35,000-65,000 butts in the seats regardless of how pathetic the spring or late fall weather is.
So to see billboards in Seattle proclaiming their kid brother Portland as the true "soccer city" makes most Sounder faithful cranky, if not a bit bemused and irritable.
In Portland, the home crowd was treated to goofy mascot loggerman chainsawing off a two inch slice off an 18” hunk of pine log, every time the locals managed to score, which they did twice in this match, but only after a defensive cage fight in the first half wasted 45 minutes of rowdiness in the stands.
During the opening seconds of the second half, the Timbers got fortunate when Kalif Alhassan managed to ricochet a pass off the heel off the Sounder’s Jeff Parke at the near post for a surprising goal that shot past a puzzled Kasey Keller.
And after Seattle tied the game, luck struck again in the 69th minute when Portland’s Jorge Perlaza zinged one that glanced off the back of Seattle’s Tyson Wahl and into the net.
Seattle, who at that time was dominating, suddenly were losing two-goals-to-one off a couple of hair-pullers, before Sounder Freddy Montero belted a crisp cross from Mauro Rosales and sent it past a frozen Portland goalkeeper Perkins.
And as the afternoon wore on and the atmosphere grew more intense, suddenly the Portland faithful demonstrated one the cultural deficiencies that fans in Seattle have long since tolerated in other sports played in the state of Oregon.
Seattle’s Jhon Kennedy Hurtado made a cutting play that didn’t look like much, but he was nevertheless left wriggling in pain from an apparent knee injury and immediately raised his hand towards his bench for medical help.
Hurtado is no stranger to knee injuries. Last year he ripped his ACL which cost him the better part of the season, so seeing him writhing in pain on the pitch with a game that had forgotten him, made most Seattle fans just a tad wary.
For some reason referee Jorge Gonzalez didn’t stop the action, and thus for the next several minutes the Sounders played a man down as both teams played around the fallen player.
When the game finally was stopped, the Sounder aid staff rushed out to administer their magic, and eventually Hurtado managed to get to his feet and limp off the field. But out of the shadows came a murmur of boos from the home faithful, with eventually most of the sold out 18,627 at Jeld-Wen Field yelling things most mothers would reward with bars of soap.
Puzzling indeed for the Seattle players, since the atmosphere the Timbers have created in their first season was nowhere near the typical Autzen Stadium presentation where classless Duck fans routinely boo and harass injured opponents. Prior to this is gutter scene, Timber fans had been hollering and singing the entire match, as if this routine MLS match was for the cup in Manchester or Barcelona.
Had Portland’s Eric Brunner not committed his knucklehead foul in the penalty box in the 81st minute, the scrappy upstart Portland side may have come out of this one with at least a tie. The Sounders returned home with a sigh of relief, as fans on television were treated to a good old fashioned barn-burner that looked like both cities were in no mood to share Sunday dinners.
But the Hurtado scene made it impossible to feel sorry for Portland, their sixth disappointing match in a row in spite of an atmosphere that rivaled Seattle's. And hence the game is "on," with a resumed rivalry certain to grow in bitterness and outrage now that Portland’s polite-challenged fans ratcheted up the boorish behavior up a few notches during their first meeting as division one sides.
For more on a similar topic, see The College World Despises Oregon Duck Fans, But Why?