Whitecaps and Timbers’ Cascadia rivalry alive and well

 

 
 
 
 
File: Vancouver Whitecaps goalie David Ousted at final whistle in victory over Portland Timbers in MLS soccer action at BC Place in Vancouver, B.C. on March 28, 2015.
 
 

File: Vancouver Whitecaps goalie David Ousted at final whistle in victory over Portland Timbers in MLS soccer action at BC Place in Vancouver, B.C. on March 28, 2015.

Photograph by: Steve Bosch, PNG

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PORTLAND, Ore. — There’s no banner up yet at Providence Park honouring the Timbers’ 2016 MLS Cup championship. That will be raised during the regular-season opener on March 6.

And Wednesday’s Timbers-Whitecaps pre-season game won’t include many of the players who were prominent last November when Portland dispatched the goal-starved Caps 2-0 in a two-game, total-goal Western Conference playoff series en route to claiming the Cup. Both clubs will field mostly second-unit lineups.

But make no mistake, the Caps’ organization is well aware — perhaps still a little bit envious — that even after losing a two-year grip on the Cascadia Cup to Seattle in 2015, it’s the Timbers who own the real bragging rights in the region.

They were the first ones to get their hands on the MLS Cup, arriving there ahead of the Caps, with whom they entered Major League Soccer in 2011 as expansion cousins, and the Sounders, who entered the league in 2009.

The “City of Roses,” where soccer fans worship a chainsawed stump and where the populace revels its artistic-centred, hipster-esque culture, owns the most important MLS trophy.

And most significantly, Seattle — “na, na, na, na, na” — and Vancouver don’t.

“It stung a little bit,” Caps president Bob Lenarduzzi said of seeing the Timbers hoisting the trophy in Columbus after they beat the Crew 2-1 on Dec. 5.

“We came in at the same time. And we actually have made the playoffs one more time than they have. They’ve only made it twice and we’ve made it three times.

“But when you take away from the emotion, the fact that they won it, I just love the fact that when I think about the Cascadia region, the Whitecaps, the Timbers and the Sounders, it’s the hub of the game in MLS. And then to see the way the city here celebrated, it just further reinforces that this is a special place that we’re in.”

Special, yes, but it’s more than that, in part because of the supporters’ groups. Hard-core fans of the three clubs are vocal, feisty and fiercely proud.

A 1,000-strong group of Timbers’ supporters were in Arizona earlier this month for the club’s training camp. Sitting right behind the Sounders’ bench for a pre-season game, they started a chant asking how many “real trophies” Seattle had won.

The Sounders have a Supporters’ Shield for earning the most points in the 2014 MLS regular season, plus four U.S. Open Cups from 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2014. But despite a payroll that dwarfs that of the Timbers and Caps, Seattle has never made an MLS Cup final.

Seattle GM Garth Lagerwey admitted a week after the Timbers won the title that it would put more public pressure on the Sounders now that their rival had reached the pinnacle of MLS.

“Publicly, sure, that’s true. From an expansion perspective, Portland started two years after us and won a title before we did. But I also think we put plenty of pressure on ourselves. I didn’t come here for any reason other than to try and win an MLS Cup.”

Timbers head coach Caleb Porter says it just adds an “extra bonus and a fuel to the fire with the rivalry to say, ‘We’re the first Cascadia team to win the Western Conference title and the MLS Cup trophy.’ “

Caps goalkeeper David Ousted agreed. The Cascadia Cup matchups are already a highlight of all three teams’ schedule. They are hard-fought, filled with intensity, tough tackles and high emotion.

“This is only going to make it more fun,” said a grinning Ousted, who says he was chirped by Portland fans outside Providence Park on Sunday before the Caps met Chicago in a pre-season match. “We’re chasing them. They’re a title up on us. Hopefully we can equal that up this year.”

Head coach Carl Robinson says the Timbers deserved to win the title last season. Porter’s club struggled for much of the season, but got on a good run of form late to sneak into the playoffs, then dispatched Sporting Kansas City in a knockout game memorable for an 11-round penalty shootout, the Caps and FC Dallas before beating Columbus.

“During their run, they got a little bit of luck and you need a little bit of luck … congratulations to them,” said Robinson. “When you’re in the playoffs it’s a different ball game.”

Luck was clearly evident in that crazy shootout, no more so than when Sporting’s Saad Abdul-Salaam had a chance to win the game in the ninth round only to have his shot bounce off both posts and ricochet away. To commemorate that moment, the Timbers will open the “Double Post Bar” on March 6 on the concourse between the Timbers Army supporters’ group section.

“That’s brilliant,” said a smiling Lenarduzzi.

He and Robinson both referenced the fine lines that separated the two clubs in 2015. Each finished with 53 points, the Caps on a 16-13-5 record; the Timbers 15-11-8.

“When I look at the makeup of our team vs. their team, I don’t think there’s a lot to choose between the two teams,” said Lenarduzzi.

Says Robinson: “When there’s a new winner of something, they’re there to be beaten.”

The Caps and Timbers meet for the first time in the regular season on May 7 in Portland.

gkingston@postmedia.com

 
 
 
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File: Vancouver Whitecaps goalie David Ousted at final whistle in victory over Portland Timbers in MLS soccer action at BC Place in Vancouver, B.C. on March 28, 2015.
 

File: Vancouver Whitecaps goalie David Ousted at final whistle in victory over Portland Timbers in MLS soccer action at BC Place in Vancouver, B.C. on March 28, 2015.

Photograph by: Steve Bosch, PNG

 
File: Vancouver Whitecaps goalie David Ousted at final whistle in victory over Portland Timbers in MLS soccer action at BC Place in Vancouver, B.C. on March 28, 2015.
File: Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson hands the MLS Cup trophy to Liam Ridgewell #24 of the Portland Timbers on December 6, 2015 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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