SB Nation

Matt Negrin | March 26, 2014

Burn, destroy, wreck, kill

Soccer's Pig War produces spies and battle cries in the Pacific Northwest

In 1859, an American farmer in the Northwest shot and killed a pig that was on his land. The pig belonged to an Irishman, who demanded $100 in repayment. Instead, the two men feuded for years, a squabble that escalated into an international conflict that eventually led to both American and British soldiers being called in to duty.

No one fired a shot, and after a decade of periodic military huffing and puffing, the two sides resolved the issue. The absurd incident became known as The Pig War.

A similar war has been ignited in the Cascadia region of the Pacific Northwest between the cities of Portland and Seattle.

The battlefield is green turf with painted white lines. No pigs have been killed, but every week the armies suit up without ever stepping foot on the field that separates them.


Star-divide

Seattle: Hearts of Darkness

When the thousands of people wearing black and green in sections 122, 123 and 124 recall the opening match of the 2014 Seattle Sounders season on March 8, they will probably remember only two minutes: the first, and the last.

The first minute was darkness. None of them could see the field. The most extreme and militant fans of the team who don't call themselves fans, but rather proud members of the Emerald City Supporters (ECS), hoisted a heavy cloth above their heads, passing it backward to the people in the rows behind them.

Inside the human fortress you can see just the people right in front of you, but you can hear them even more, chanting "Born in 1974, Sounders, Sounders," to the tune of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." The forever rain sounds like a Gatling gun as it hits the banner.

Everyone else in the stadium can see what's on the surface of the gigantic banner known as a tifo — Italian for any form of passionate support for a team you can see — but nobody underneath knows, save for the two dozen people who designed and painted it and then kept its identity a secret so that the other team wouldn't get wind of it and mock them with a banner of their own. Most of these people believe that everything they do — every display, chant, clap and jeer — can boost a teammate or deflate an opponent, and tip their team over the top. It's as close to being on the team that they can be without putting on cleats.

Meanwhile, right in front of them through the net behind the Sounders' goalie, a game is actually happening, the first minute of the Sounders' season, and the first game to be played in all of Major League Soccer in 2014, Seattle vs. defending MLS champion Kansas City. But who would know underneath the veil?

Seavskc-tifo-mikerussellfoto__1__medium The Sounders tifo is unveiled (video) during their first game this season. (Mike Russell/Sounder at Heart)

***

"There's still 14 minutes left!" the athletic, crew cut fanatic screams into the microphone, his voice cracking, hoarse from 76 minutes of yelling. "Come on — we knew we were gonna win in the 94th minute!"

Most of the people listening probably agreed — nearly every time Seattle has played Kansas City at home, they've won in the final flashes of the game. It was 0-0. Derek Pells, about to be a prophet, held the microphone so close to his mouth he could taste it, and sent his song through the PA system propped up in front of the supporters: "No one likes us! NO ONE LIKES US! No one likes us — we don't care!"

They routinely lead the league in average attendance, even outperforming almost every team in baseball. Sounders5_medium(Jane Gershovich/JaneG. Photography)

If soccer-loving aliens arrived in the United States and asked Major League Soccer where they could play for the best fans, the league would probably point them to Seattle. That doesn't mean they're necessarily the most intense or the best organized; it means they routinely lead the league in average attendance, even outperforming almost every team in baseball, America's national pastime. Yet along with that record comes a reputation for snobbishness, especially among yuppies in a hub for tech startups.

As this game's main capo — the Italian word for leader — Pells doesn't watch the soccer match on the field. His back is to the pitch; the whole time he's focused on conducting his orchestra, pointing at sides to stand or sit, rain droplets rocketing off his hands as he pumps them in the air, pulling his legions forward and pushing them back as if he's bowing to a Japanese emperor, slowing them down, clapping his hands. The maestro, his black V-neck matted to his wet skin, has a plan.

In the 94th minute, the last minute of the game, Pells was leading a chant: "Take 'em all, take 'em all, put 'em up against a wall and shoot 'em ..." when the ball bounced 30 yards behind him, off the head of a star player, then off the crossbar to Kansas City's goal, and finally off the foot of a Sounder who fulfilled Derek's prophecy. Derek saw the goal on the faces of the men and women he was directing, their eyebrows raising in hope and their mouths stretching open wide ...

What happened then might be unique to that moment, or it might happen at every soccer game. Time was forgotten and sound was incoherently everywhere. The co-president of ECS, Aaron Reed, who was standing to my right, exploded and barreled into me. He was really trying to hug his friend Jesse next to me, and the result was a manwich in which I was the unsuspecting meat. Puddles splashed everywhere under the already-soaked shoes of anxious and desperate supporters. All around us the rain that had been a waterfall all day finally no longer mattered.

The final whistle blew just afterward. Pells let the chants play themselves out; he barely needed to do anything. But then he stopped everyone and pointed over his left shoulder, and high up, to the far corner of the stadium, where 650 Kansas City fans were sitting in isolation.

"I WANT THEM TO HEAR IT!" Pells boomed. "I WANT THEM TO HEAR IT!"

And then Pells conjured a lightning bolt of pure sound shot to the corner of the stadium: "We did it again! We did it again! We did it again! We did it again! We did it again! We did it again! We did it again!"

The Kansas City supporters held their scarves above their heads, unmoving. Below them and to the right, Seattle's official marching band, the Sound Wave, had finished playing in the rain, and ducked into the cover of the concourse.

Then the Sounders — the players — walked in front of the ECS, behind Pells. For the first time all day, he turned around, and looked at the dampened turf on the field. The players and the supporters became one, all raising their hands and chanting "Hey! Hey! Hey!"

When Pells turned back around the only thing anyone could see this time was his grin.

***

On a Saturday in mid-January, Dan Baker, who was finally 21, realized that he was about to miss a pretty important deadline. For months he had mused with his roommate at Central Washington University about applying to be in the Sound Wave, the official marching band that plays before and after Sounders games. Since he was a kid he had gone to the games with his dad and his older brother, and since 2009 — when the Sounders got promoted to the majors — the Sound Wave was there, thumping and jiving the way brass bands do in music majors' dreams.

At any time a Sound Wave player might be spinning in circles, playing their trumpet like a guitar, hustling like Van McCoy, dodging bullets like Keanu. They're playing "Killing in the Name Of" by Rage Against the Machine, "Hey Ya!" by OutKast, "Shots" by LMFAO, "Can't Hold Us" by Seattle's Macklemore. Even "Thunderhorse," a pounding metal song by Dethklok, in which the four biggest drums trade off playing rapid-fire, double-bass that sounds like a hundred people having a heart attack at once.

"We are not a traditional marching band. We actually try really hard not to be one." Sounders3_mediumDan Baker prepares for his first day with the Sound Wave. (Matt Negrin)

"It was fucking ass-kicker is what it was," says the Sound Wave's director, Keith Rousu, a bald and bearded conductor whose master's thesis on music influencing sports teams earned him the job. "We are not a traditional marching band. We actually try really hard not to be one."

Except Baker had kind of neglected to fill out the band application until the day it was due. He and his roommate frantically submitted them online and jumped into Baker's tan-brown 1991 Camry with automatic seat belts. His roommate, a snare drummer, spread out sheet music on the dashboard in front of him and drummed on his legs to practice. They were 90 minutes away, zipping on the highway that goes through a mountain pass. Halfway to Seattle, they received an email from Rousu. It said not to come — they were too far away, it won't be worth it. See you next year.

They pulled over. They thought about it. They got — what else? — coffee. They called a friend in the band. And they decided, fuck it. They pulled back onto the road, made the audition in time, and drove home. The call from the director telling them they were in the band came while they were in the car.

At 6:30 a.m. on the day of the opener, as the sun peered over the Cascades behind the clouds, Baker woke up in his childhood bedroom, 20 minutes from downtown Seattle. He showered and put on the uniform he's been waiting his whole life to wear — a Sounders uniform, technically a Sound Wave uniform, but really indistinguishable from the team jersey, along-sleeve, "rave green" shirt; "cascade shale" warm-up pants; short "Sounders blue" scarf.

His dad, Scott, made cheese-and-sausage muffins and the dog, Harry, noticed. Standing in the kitchen next to bay windows that look out onto the snowcaps, Dan put coffee beans into Mr. Coffee, and talked with his dad about how it all started.

Neither of them can remember how old Dan was when his dad took him to his first Sounders game. He was real little, though. Scott fetches some pictures from the basement to reminisce. One of them is a poster-sized print of Dan playing with a soccer ball about one-fifth the size of his child body. Another is of him in high school playing trombone before a musical trip to Ireland. Today, his two biggest passions will coexist for the first time.

Dan, skinny and blonde with a 21-year-old's beard framing his face, shuts the lights in the house, gets in the Camry with automatic seat belts, and drives out of his neighborhood. As he nears the stadium he can't stop talking about what he's going to do. The march to the match, the performance in front of the concourse, the half-dozen rehearsals that he's driven 90 minutes to get to since the day he auditioned in defiance.

"Been waiting a long time for this," he says.

Dan pulls into the parking lot in front of CenturyLink Field to meet the band and go to the sound check in an empty stadium.

***

Sounders1_mediumMembers of the Emerald City Supporters. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the room is far from empty four blocks away at Fuel, one of who knows how many official ECS gathering places, where '90s alt-rock is blaring and hundreds of people have been ordering vodka and Red Bulls, mimosas, champagne and beer since 9 a.m.

They're getting ready for the march to the match, too. It's the same march. Kind of.

Turns out the Sounders have too many fans. In 2009, their first year in the MLS, the Sound Wave - sponsored by the club — played in the middle of the ECS section. That was bad. The ECS wanted to sing chants that include lines like "We don't hear a fucking thing!" and "I'm always drinking!" The band played music that was more family friendly — still fun, like samba riffs and death metal and classic rock ... but nothing with the word "fuck" in it.

The band got pushed out. Now they set up on the direct opposite side of the field from the ECS, in what's called the "Hawks' Nest" — the eponymous fan section for the Seattle Seahawks, for whom the stadium was primarily built.

On top of that, lots of people in the ECS say the band tried to hijack their march to the match, the weekly parade from Occidental Square to CenturyLink an hour before kickoff. The band tried to get in front of the supporters. So the supporters let them march. Alone.

Now the band marches in the back.

The ECS won. But a lot of their members won't let it go.

"I fucking hate that band. I feel like that's pretty common."

"I fucking hate that band. I feel like that's pretty common," Josh Chambers says the morning of the opener, drinking a vodka and Red Bull at Fuel. "They try to ruin our march every fucking time .... They're still a fucking marching band playing terrible CeeLo Green songs."

I asked two friends named Roman and Zach what they thought of the Sound Wave. "Bullshit," they said together. Then Roman added, "I hope they die in a fire."

The band is more diplomatic. Grateful losers, you could call them, but they're not spiteful. "We have no problem with ECS," says Rousu, the director. "We love those guys."

"You'll have some ECS guys say, ‘Screw Sound Wave, they suck,' " Rousu says, accurately. "They see the value that we bring .... There is a need for both of us."

Don't give the ECS a perfect score for originality either. They're transparent thieves. Some of their chants come from England, where supporters sing nonstop; their flags waving over 30 seats at a time are styled after South Americans'; the section-covering overheads are ripped from Italy. The people who run the ECS, which their "propaganda director" says is impossible: "We run the asylum; we can't control the patients," fully share that they looked to other continents where soccer has thrived to come up with ways to energize their members.

The almost laughable feud between the Sound Wave and the ECS reflects the real mystery about the Sounders: The identity of their fan culture is as cloudy as the Seattle sky. Is it a franchise-backed effort to promote wholesome, gimmicky funk — like so many indoor soccer and minor league baseball teams before them? Or a vehicle for a latent, rambunctious militia ready to turn American soccer into the sport that so many believers think it can be?

***

This part is being written out of a notebook with its pages ripped out.

An hour after the Seattle Sounders beat Sporting Kansas City in the final minute, hundreds of soaking-wet supporters bounced over to Temple Billiards two blocks north of the stadium. That's where I met Ralph.

His real name isn't actually Ralph, but I want to return to Seattle someday, and if I use his real name, he might make sure I don't make it back again.

Ralph grew up poor in Arizona. His mom was an alcoholic bartender and his dad worked in insurance. When he was nine he moved to Seattle and he says he'll never leave. He got his first job at 15, cooking, and later painting houses. Eventually he became an "iron worker," which, when I ask him what that means, means he grabs steel, throws it on his wide shoulders, walks over to a deck and sets the heap down. "We build Seattle."

It's impossible to say what "type" of fan belongs to the Sounders. Certainly, there are a reliable core, like Baker's dad, who bought tickets to the inaugural game in 1974 and followed a changing team through four decades. Then there are the white gamers and developers who uplinked to Seattle through tech giants and saw soccer as their alternative calling.

Not Ralph. He's 35 and he's huge. His friend describes him as a "skinhead," but without the prejudice. He looks like Jason Statham plus 40 pounds. He points to the ironwork in the ceiling; points to the floor; you see that? "That's our work," he says. He has a thin red scar above his right thumb near his wrist, and a thicker and darker-red gash on his knuckle where his middle finger meets the top of his hand.

Ralph's mom just died of alcohol poisoning, in Missouri. He held her hand while she breathed for the last time. "I loved her more than anything in this world." He pauses and looks around Temple, shoulder-to-shoulder with supporters wearing soccer scarves. "Including the Sounders. And it's a close margin."

I tell him that ECS, which he helped found as the Sounders ascended to the majors, seems to me like a cult. He says it is. And he's proud of it.

The last thing I ask him before my notebook is destroyed is what makes people in Seattle different than people anywhere else in the United States. "Because we're different," he says, laughing as if I don't get it. "Write that down in your notebook. Because ... we're ... different."

Sometimes you ask questions when you know the answer; I ask Ralph if he's ever been in a soccer fight. He says he was smoking at halftime during a Sounders-Timbers game in Portland when a brawl broke out after an ECS supporter refused to give a Timbers Army supporter a light. He threw some punches. He hit some targets. I tell him I've never been in a fight.

Ralph stares at me. "Buy me a beer. Buy me a beer."

He looks at my notes — his job as an ironworker, his mother's death — and he rips them out.

"Sure, what do you want?" I said. I'm drinking PBR in a glass.

"PBR," he says. "I think you're drinking PBR."

I go to the bar, order a PBR. I look back and Ralph is thumbing through my notebook, which I left on one of the pool tables covered with a tarp to protect the felt from everyone's damp jackets. He looks at my notes — his job as an ironworker, his mother's death — and he rips them out. He crumples them in his hands, which could crush both of mine in a ball, and tosses them underneath the pool table. He looks up at me to make sure I don't see what he's doing.

I bring him back the PBR. "Why did you rip out my notes?"

Ralph unleashes a string of unconnected sentences, mostly about me landing in Seattle to write about a city and a supporter culture without living there, which is true, and for me to write without my notes so I experience "Seattle football" not as a journalist. His friend comes over and tries to calm him down, and takes him outside for 10 minutes. When he comes back, Ralph grabs my notebook from me and hands it to one of the bartenders. "Throw this in the garbage."

Ralph wouldn't talk to me much after that. Most of the people in the billiards room had picked up their drenched coats and left, and I was about to. On the way out, I handed him a piece of paper with my number, and told him that if he wants to call me, great, and if not, great, and I thanked him for talking with me.

"Not a bad man," Ralph said before turning around and leaving forever. "I fucking like you."


Star-divide

Portland: Whispers and Hideouts

Two Fridays ago, I was standing in one of those bus stop booths with glass walls just before midnight, across from an appliance parts warehouse in southeast Portland, Ore. The nervous, mid-20s guy with me looked at the ground and said, "Look to your left."

I looked around for a few seconds. "You see that bar over there? Across the street" he said. "That may, or may not, be a secret Sounders bar."

This is more like Moscow and Washington, circa 1980 — whispers and hideouts across enemy lines.

He was referring to Seattle's MLS team, perhaps the biggest rival that the city of Portland has known in its entire sports history. The cities are only a few hours apart from one another, 173 miles, but this isn't like New York and Boston, where ex-pats openly and loudly advertise their home bar away from home.

This is more like Moscow and Washington, circa 1980 — whispers and hideouts across enemy lines.

This is cold war shit.

The day after the bus-stop rendezvous, I got the green light from the secret Sounders crew. In broad daylight, I returned to the bar (it will not be named, and neither will the person, because the rules of war are in effect).

***

Timbers2_mediumMembers of the Timbers Army during a match. (Getty Images)

Would Seattle be so bloodthirsty if it weren't for Portland?

Matches always truly start before kickoff. In Seattle, the Emerald City Supporters sound their first battle cry a few blocks away from the stadium as they begin their traditional "march to the match." Thousands of fanatics drape scarves around their mouths while green smoke bombs are unleashed in the streets around the stadium. Led by their communications director in the European football-style prelude, while the thick plumes seep into their eyes, they chant, "Take 'em all, take 'em all ..."

Precision is key. Men beat large battle drums to dozens of tunes. "Burn, destroy, wreck, and kill ..." they all chant.

Even during away games, the supporters — and you better call them supporters, not fans — coordinate with military-like precision. Spies are everywhere ... once just before a match in Los Angeles, the Seattle soldiers got word that the Galaxy's supporters were planning a tifo that riffed off those Dos Equis commercials ("I don't often watch soccer, but when I do, I support the Galaxy.") Hastily, they put together a counter-banner of their own that read, "The least interesting supporters in the world," and pointed straight at the L.A. section.

At least one a year, and sometimes more, Seattle rides their cavalry south to face the Portland Timbers, their chief rival — because they play each other so often, and because, in their mind, well, Portland sucks.

They all sing in unison, too, often the same chant used by ECS. "Burn, destroy, wreck, and kill ..." Timbers3_medium(Getty Images)

The Timbers have an army as well. In fact, they're called the Timbers Army. Situated at the north end of their home stadium, Providence Park, they're divided by regiment according to section. Section 103 holds the Ballistic Unit; 104 is for Charlie Company; 105, the Howitzers; 117 is Delta Company; 203 is the Bombing Brigade.

But they all sing in unison, too, often the same chant used by ECS. "Burn, destroy, wreck, and kill ..."

They have their own satellite supporters, too, with names that sound like Stratego pieces. In Seattle, they're called Timbers Army Covert Ops; other Oregon chapters include Eugene's Echo Squadron, Salem's Capital City Brigade, and the Jefferson Reserves. Texas is home to the Lone Star Brigade and Canada houses the Northern Scouts. Eight states to the east make up the Heartland Regiment, and their supporters across the country are part of the East Coast Platoon.

And their bars are loyal. A Timbers Army pub near the Portland stadium is notorious for its strict no-Sounders policy, because, in their mind, well, Seattle sucks.

The Timbers Army welcomes their boys to the pitch every game by chanting, "We salute you!" Their logo is a pair of battle-axes in a cross, presumably ready to chop down a tree or an opponent's head, and many of their soldiers have large tattoos bearing the symbol. Inside a musty headquarters, the German-inspired Fanladen housed in a building that used to be a UFO museum, old pennants and posters bear violent mantra:

"You're going home in a Portland ambulance."

"We're gonna shake the gates of hell."

Inside this green and gold outpost with wood-planked floors and merch for sale, a dozen leaders of the Army's most well-known section, the 107ists, gather monthly for a bureaucratic board meeting that gets more exciting the more they drink. Votes are taken ("All those aye? All those oppose? All those meh?"), insults are tossed ("My mom friended me on Facebook the other day." "Your mom friended me, too."), and some sort of order is demanded ("I know you're deaf, but could you turn down the fucking match over there?").

They debate how to reach their goal of 4,000 members this year, why more members don't have season tickets, and whether they should spend the money and effort for a display at this year's All-Star Game in Portland.

"We're not doing any of that fucking tifo/capo shit," one board member says.

"Do we really want to give up any shred of credibility we have left?" says another.

"I don't understand why suddenly this is a referendum on our relationship with the F.O.," says a third, using the verbal shorthand for the team's front office.

A few days later, a couple dozen guys from the Timbers Army drive out to a soccer field in northeast Portland to meet some of their counterparts from Section 108, the supporters group for the Chicago Fire who are visiting Oregon for the match the next morning. It's a scrimmage — a friendly — and while a few of the Chicagoans are drunk, streaking and screaming lines from "Portlandia" ("Put a bird on it!"), Timbers Army is on a mission.

"Who's jumping back in the midfield?!" an older, bald supporter who looks as if he could have been a drill sergeant shouts from the sidelines.

"Support!"

"Get it get it get it get it get it! Keep on it!"

"Drive in goal! Drive on it!"

"Up line up line!"

"Drop!"

As this is happening, across the river to the west, the Portland "ultras," or what passes for them, are lining up outside Providence Park. The game isn't for hours, and they already have tickets for the Army section. But the team awards wristbands to the first 1,000 fans that allow them a head-start on scouting out the best seats.

"There's nowhere else where they're willing to go to the lengths we are."

For the home opener, Will Shough parked in front of the gate at 10 a.m. on a Friday. Kickoff was scheduled for 7 p.m. ... the next day. He was first in line. This sort of insanity is referred to somewhat derogatorily as "line culture," although some people who do it affectionately say that they're "line culturing" for a match.

Shough, 26, has been doing it for three years and has met pretty much everyone near the front of the line, and more than enough members of Portland's homeless community. He always picks the same seat, in the front row of section 103, right behind the corner of the field, so he can heckle the visiting team when they take a corner kick.

"We just have our own way of doing things," he says. "There's nowhere else where they're willing to go to the lengths we are."

Meanwhile, other captains in the Army have been organizing the ranks for days. About 50 of them volunteer for "game day ops," and are allowed into the stadium hours before anyone else to set up. They place at least 100 flags, sometimes twice or even eight times as many, staggered in the seats behind the goal, and hoist a heavy mat splattered with paint to the top of the stands.

Over nine days, more than 100 recruits painted the tifo for their home opener. In 2012, more than 200 people participated in one particular display that involved colored placards placed on every seat in the stadium.

The stage in front of the Army is long enough to put on "Henry V." Three capos share it; five more capos have nests to the side that arc around the north end of the Army section. Next to one of them is a log that will release green smoke when the Timbers score; the Army had to meet with a fire marshal and the F.O. to get that one approved.

Sometimes they sound out their diplomats. An armistice treaty between Portland and Seattle limits the war of attrition, committing each side to just one home-game tifo for the season when they collide.

It's probably unknown to most people in both the Portland and Seattle armies, but there's a back channel. A very small number of recruits in the Emerald City Supporters and the Timbers Army occasionally communicate with each other covertly, and at great risk.

I'm sorry I can't be more specific. That information is classified. As they put it, sometimes it's the only way to get certain things done.

***

Timbers4_medium(Getty Images)

There are 19 teams in MLS and none of them has a rivalry as intense as that between the Sounders and the Timbers. They even compete for bragging rights in their own regional championship (which includes Vancouver’s Whitecaps), called the Cascadia Cup (named after a region that once wanted to secede from the union).

But those days of shared purpose and camaraderie are gone. The Sounders' and Timbers' hatred for each other's teams has spilled over into a much larger hatred — an outright disgust for the other's city — the Pig War has commenced.

In Seattle, they mock: Portland's stadium ("small"; "What are we calling it, Providence Park now?"), their city's size ("Cute"), their population ("Portlandia").

In Portland, they mock: Seattle's stadium ("They use the Seahawks' field"; "Selling out with a name like CenturyLink Field"), their city's corporate culture ("They're Microsoft-Amazon"), their architecture ("Where's the historical preservation?").

Soccer fanatics in both cities are incredibly petty, seizing on brief moments in history to prove their dominance. Sounders like to humiliate Portland for an ambitiously monstrous tifo that ripped as it was unfurled over their own supporters. And Timbers laugh at Seattle for unveiling a three-part tifo upside-down, and for a banner with the word "BLUE" misspelled "BULE." That happened three years ago and is still a sore spot.

In reality, Seattle and Portland have more in common than their proud residents would like to admit:

They have admirably easy access to nature, with Seattle surrounded by lakes and parks and Portland inclusive of an actual forest with a hiking trail. Both have popular viewing points that look out on to monumental mountains, Mt. Rainier in Seattle and Mt. Hood in Portland.

Their main modes of public transit are "light rail" systems, essentially a tram with the honor system: buy a ticket, but don't expect to have to show it to anyone.

Heavily white populations with moderate Asian influence.

Limited sports teams: Seattle no longer has a pro basketball team, and apart from the Timbers, Portland's only major professional sports team is the NBA Trail Blazers.

Eclectic buildings and homes, built around the same time.

Progressives and liberals, including gay mayors.

Wealthy enclaves: Mercer Island in Seattle, and the west hills in Portland, both of which overlook impressive landscapes.

Tech bubbles: Microsoft, Amazon, and eBay are in Seattle; Intel and HP are in Portland.

Rain.

An abundance of coffee shops and breweries.

Beards.

Fierce regional pride of their Cascadian background.

And as for their actual soccer teams, as much as they are loath to admit, there are similarities:

While Portland fans enjoy poking at the corporate name of Seattle's stadium, CenturyLink Field, their own giant television display on the south end is sponsored by CenturyLink. The name is on both sides of the screen.

Both teams are based in the color green, a nod to their closeness with nature. They both use green smoke. (When asked about this, a Timbers Army supporter protested: "Have you seen their green compared to our green?!") Even the nicknames of their cities are based in colors, Emerald vs. Rose.

Never have I been told to go "off the record" more than in the two weeks I spent embedded in Cascadia.

Most important, they chant the same chants, including taunts like "Northern Boys" and "Build a Bonfire" that you might hear them sing even at a pub after the match. A handful of other chants have identical melodies, but just slightly different wording. And of course, one of their favorites, the battle cry with the line, "Burn, destroy, wreck, and kill."

Finally, and this might just be a personal note, but the people heavily involved in running the main supporters groups of the Emerald City Supporters and the Timbers Army were very friendly to me, but equally paranoid. I told them I was a journalist, but they both wondered how could they know for sure? Plenty of spies have used the news media as cover. Maybe they watch "The Americans."

I reported on politics for three years; never have I been told to go "off the record" more than in the two weeks I spent embedded in Cascadia.

***

That day at the bar near the bus stop, 13 Seattle Sounders fans sat crammed into the room farthest away from the entrance to watch their team play Toronto. Some of them were members of the Emerald City Supporters; all of them hailed from Seattle and wore some of their usual Sounders wardrobe ... but not all of it. Keep it subtle. No need to arouse too much suspicion.

Throughout the game, the supporters quietly and sporadically chanted their Sounders songs in unison with their counterparts standing behind the goal on the screen. "Come on Seattle," they more-than whispered. "Fight, and win ..." A stranger played video poker to the left of the television.

After the game, the organizer of the group approached two newcomers and thanked them for coming, telling them he wants the dive bar to be a "safe place" for Seattle fans to watch Sounders games in Portland. They nodded, quietly paid their bill, and said they'd be back next time. As long as they're not discovered behind enemy lines.

On April 5, the Sounders and their supporters will march on Portland.

Long live The Pig War.

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Producer: Chris Mottram | Editor: Glenn Stout | Copy Editor: Kevin Fixler | Title Photo: Getty Images

About the Author

Matt Negrin has never written about sports, but he's written about politics, and he's pretty sure they're the same thing. (He once caught* a foul ball tossed by Stephen Strasburg.) He started his career at age 12, as the head news anchor at Little Run Elementary. He's also worked at The New York Times, ABC News, and Politico. Matt has covered revolution in Egypt, culture in Tokyo**, and elections in Washington. In 2012, he got George W. Bush to endorse Mitt Romney by cornering him in an elevator***. Now he's writing a book about soccer fanatics around the world and at the World Cup. In 50 years when human consciousness is converted to cyber energy, you'll be able to read all of his memories on Twitter under @mattnegrin or on his site awayandhome.com.

*It was awkward.
**It was weird.
***It was awkward.

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