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A PACIFIC PASSION PLAY
Grant Wahl
May 23, 2011
Big-time clubs left Portland, Seattle and Vancouver 30 years ago, but their fans never did. Now the teams are back in MLS, and their reborn rivalries are turning the region into a hotbed of the sport
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May 23, 2011

A Pacific Passion Play

Big-time clubs left Portland, Seattle and Vancouver 30 years ago, but their fans never did. Now the teams are back in MLS, and their reborn rivalries are turning the region into a hotbed of the sport

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"Then there's that big-city mentality they have in Seattle, and down here we're like, You've gotta be kidding me," added Dittfurth. "They have a lot more of an East Coast mentality than we do, and that kind of pervades on the field. You feel that air of superiority."

If the Emerald City Supporters group felt threatened by Portland's rise, they certainly didn't show it on Friday night at a warehouse party in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. As techno music thumped and a three-on-three soccer tournament took place on an indoor field, the youthful leaders of the ECS sipped from cups of Brougham Bitter (the fan group's official craft beer) and explained how they had set a new standard among MLS fans by leading stadium-wide chants, building a membership of 1,200 hard-core members and organizing group road trips to games around North and Central America. They laughed when reminded of the billboard the Timbers paid to put up last year near Seattle's Qwest Field:

PORTLAND, OREGON

SOCCER CITY USA 2011

"It was like shooting a tank with a pellet," said Hodo, a 28-year-old programmer, who was wearing a Mohawk and a black T-shirt for the punk band Rancid.

"We're at 32,000 season tickets, and they sold like 13,000," said copresident Greg Mockos, 28, an engineering consultant. "On their opening night you could argue that maybe they did exceed our passion, but tomorrow we'll remind them where they stand. And the same with Vancouver."

How did soccer get so big in the Pacific Northwest? While the area's NASL history certainly played a role, so did geography. "We're pretty isolated up here, the only three cities until you get to California," says Adrian Hanauer, the Sounders' general manager and a minority owner. "There's nobody else for us to hate and battle with."

That said, the relationship with Vancouver is slightly different. Yes, the Whitecaps have a history with Portland and Seattle, and the team that's most successful in games involving the trio each season wins a traveling trophy called the Cascadia Cup. But Vancouver has its own Canadian rivalry with Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact, who will move up next year from the second tier to become MLS's 19th team. Vancouver's fans also seem to be lacking in vitriol. "It's hard to dislike them because they're so nice," says Timbers Army member Scott Van Swearingen. As the ECS's Mockos says, "They're like the nice cousin that's never going to offend anyone at a party."

The Sounders made their MLS debut in 2009, filling the void left by the departure of the NBA's SuperSonics. As comedian Drew Carey puts it, "We were like, Hey, does your man treat you bad? Come out with us!" Carey joined the ownership group as a minority partner in '07 over a lunch in Los Angeles with Roth, during which he persuaded the Sounders' principal owner to embrace two unusual ideas: having a marching band for the team and allowing the fans to vote every four years on whether to keep the general manager. As an NFL fan, Carey had felt badly for supporters of the Detroit Lions, whose owners had kept Matt Millen in charge of the team for seven years despite his abject failures. "If they had the system the Sounders use in Detroit," Carey says, "the fans could have risen up and fired Matt Millen and made them hire somebody new."

Carey's populist idea (which he took from the elections for team presidents at clubs like Barcelona) was only part of an inaugural season in '09 that could not have gone any better. Seattle won the first of back-to-back U.S. Open Cups, qualified for the MLS playoffs and led the league in attendance by a wide margin. "I tell people, if you are a soccer fan, you've got to come to a game here," says Schmid, a two-time MLS champion coach, "because it's everything we'd always hoped it would be."

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