The Seattle Sounders FC communications department spent much of the week asking players and coaches to describe the club’s rivalry with the Portland Timbers in a single word.
Almost without exception, the chosen word was ‘intense’ — although coach Sigi Schmid put a slight spin on the theme.
“For me to describe the rivalry is just ‘intense.’ ‘Massively intense’ would be two words,’ he said. “But it’s something that we look forward to.”
The Sounders-Timbers rivalry dates to 1975 in the original North American Soccer League. Seattle leads 45-33-12 through all competitions and leagues, and 5-4-4 since the teams moved to Major League Soccer.
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Veteran defender Zach Scott is the lone Seattle player who was part of the rivalry dating back to its pre-MLS days in the second division.
And Scott could be a key figure yet again in the Sunday meeting, as he is expected to fill in for central defender Chad Marshall, who is serving a one-game suspension for a dangerous tackle last weekend at Colorado.
On the other end of the spectrum is starting right back Tyrone Mears, who will experience the Northwest derby for the first time.
“He can feel the rivalry,” Schmid said. “He knows what a derby game is all about and what a classic type of game is all about. Now it’s just a matter of going out there and performing. It’s definitely something that is entrenched in the history of the two clubs. It’s also entrenched maybe in just maybe the history of the cities as well.”
Also experiencing Sounders-Timbers intensity for the first time is general manager Garth Lagerwey, who came to Seattle in January after seven years at Real Salt Lake, whose Rocky Mountain rivalry with Colorado doesn’t match the passion of this Cascadia pairing.
“This is the biggest rivalry in the league,” Lagerwey said. “Playing games like this is the reason why I came here. I think it’s a lot of fun. … it’s one of those games — it’s not a playoff game, but it’s a pretty reasonable approximation thereof in regular-season terms. It’s fun. It’s a fun game to play in, the crowd is going to be into it, and I think it’s going to be a good time.”
Sounders forward Clint Dempsey is starting his third season of the rivalry, but he has quickly made his mark.
Dempsey leads all Sounders and Timbers with five goals in the MLS series, including a hat trick in the first meeting last season, a wild 4-4 draw in Portland.
“We have to make sure we play our game,” Dempsey said. “It’s not about me necessarily scoring, it’s about the team winning. If I can contribute in a positive way, whether creating chances, putting in work defensively, getting an assist here or there, or chipping in with a goal, then I’m happy to do that.”