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Seattle vs. Portland remains incredible, both on and off the pitch

Cascadia derby lives up to billing

Mike Russell/Sounder at Heart

PORTLAND, Ore. — The first thing Brian Schmetzer sees when he opens his computer is a picture of Caleb Porter. It's been there ever since the Seattle Sounders -- for whom Schmetzer is an assistant coach -- were eliminated by Porter's Portland Timbers in last year's MLS Cup playoffs.

The photo shows Porter celebrating a victory while staring down the sideline at the Sounders coaches. Schmetzer originally put it there as a constant reminder of how the Sounders' season ended, easily the most gut-wrenching of any of their first five in MLS.

It remains there because ... well, does Schmetzer really need a reason? It's the same reason Porter took a swipe at the Sounders when he was first introduced as coach. Or why the Timbers felt compelled to buy a billboard across the street from CenturyLink Field that announced their arrival to MLS prior to the 2011 season. Or why Sounders midfielder Brad Evans once called Timbers fans "a bunch of drunks." It's the reason big brothers flick the ears of their siblings or we continue to follow exes on Facebook.

When it comes to the Sounders-Timbers rivalry, there's really no reason any coach or players should be lacking for motivation. There's no love lost between the two fan bases, the players openly speak of their animosity for one another and the it's only through gritted teeth that the coaches will pay each other a compliment.

The rivalry dates back to 1975, the year Portland joined Seattle in the NASL, and it has persisted despite a few dark years and through at least three different leagues. But the rivalry has really hit its stride during the four seasons the two teams have both been in MLS. On Sunday in front of a national-TV audience, it again took center stage.

While games at CenturyLink Field have drawn upwards of 65,000 fans and are impressive in their scope, it's the ones at roughly 20,000-seat Providence Park that really get the heart pounding and stomach butterflies fluttering.

The intimacy of the stadium makes it seem as though all 20,000 souls are almost on top of the action. With the Timbers Army in one end and the Emerald City Supporters in the other, the sound is amplified by the covered north end and bounces off the Multnomah Athletic Club on the south side. Timbers fans were lining up three -- yes three -- days before the game in order to snag the best seats in the general admission Timbers Army section. The dueling supporters groups start their singing and chanting hours before the match and continue almost literally nonstop until the stadium is fully emptied a solid 15 minutes after the final whistle.

Even the owners do their parts to stoke the flames. Sounders part owner Drew Carey showed up on Sunday and bought $1,000 worth of beer for the 800 or so traveling supporters.

The latest encounter lived up to all that billing, with the Sounders registering a 4-2 win that featured whistle-to-whistle action.

"It's a rivalry and to give the Timbers Army credit, they do a great job," said Schmetzer, who played against Portland in the NASL and Western Soccer Alliance eras and was the Sounders head coach for much of the USL era. "Then you have our traveling fans, that doubles the atmosphere. And the teams don't like each other and it just boils and churns and you get a good soccer match out of it. I thought today was great, especially because we're sitting on the bus home happy."

For as exciting as it may be, it's not necessarily the optimal environment in which to work. Many players have admitted to be overwhelmed, saying it can take well into the first half before they've really calmed themselves. Others say they feed off the energy, that it can urge them to make an extra run here, chase down a loose ball there.

Evans has been on both sides, once playing so badly against the Timbers that he was removed at halftime for the only time in his career, which made his standout performance on Sunday all the more satisfying.

"Today we fed off that," Evans said after registering an assist on the Sounders' opening goal and helping set up their third. "At the end of a road trip, playing away from home, in this rivalry game, you have to give a little bit extra and everybody did today. That's feeding off emotions. Coming into the stadium, hearing their fans yell at you, hearing our fans yell for us. No matter what you say, you get the butterflies, you get the tingling feeling and that's when you know you're in for a good game. You feed off that in a positive way and today we did."

This rivalry has supplied us with some exciting games, but few have been quite as action packed as this one. The Sounders had come in struggling, winners of just one of their last five league games. The Timbers had been surging up the table, two points off a playoff spot following a eight-game winless run to start the season.

This rivalry has supplied us with some exciting games, but few have been quite as action packed as this one.

Neither side seemed particularly worried about losing. The chances came early and often. Tackles were flying. Elbows were up. Cards came out and tempers flared. The match had all the hallmarks of a proper derby, including a few highlight-reel goals supplied by both teams.

The Sounders' biggest stars -- Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins -- combined for three goals and two assists. Dempsey's featured a gut-busting, 80-yard run before he took Martins' pass and put it in the back of the net, the fifth time he'd scored against the Timbers this year. Martins' second goal saw him spin around one defender, split three more on the dribble and finish it off with shot he curled around Donovan Ricketts from the penalty spot. Chad Barrett celebrated his goal by dancing like a ballerina (he apparently lost a fantasy football-related bet). There were penalty shouts on both ends, the Timbers feeling particularly aggrieved on by a pair of handballs that went uncalled.

Even with the Sounders leading by three goals, Timbers fans erupted when Fanendo Adi scored to make it 4-2 late in stoppage time. When pride is at stake, these things matter.

The fans provided their own highlights as well.

Timbers Army unfurled a massive tifo that stretched the entire width of the field. It depicted a gasoline-can wielding Dorothy at the end of a Yellow Brick Road that led to a flame-engulfed Emerald City (aka Seattle) along with the words "There's no place like home." Dorothy's sparkly ruby adidas sneakers included the words "burn" and "destroy," a call back to songs TA and ECS both sing (the two groups have long argued over who stole the song first).

There was nothing quite so bold from ECS, but they did put together a clever display of their own in which the fans held up a sea of blue tarps along with some inflatable goldfish, as well as an alligator. The goldfish were a reference to a quote from Timbers captain Will Johnson's quote from earlier in the year when he said his teammates showed the "heart of a lion, but the brains of a goldfish." The alligator was apparently a jab at Timbers owner Merritt Paulson, who was bitten by the reptile earlier this year.

There were also two-poles galore, the best depicting DeAndre Yedlin as Speed Racer and another showing Evans wearing reflective shades with the word "B-Rad" spelled out.

Organic, fan-created atmosphere does come with some risks, though. Security removed several signs from ECS that had language not so well suited for the nationally televised game and ESPN producers at one point turned off the mics in the Timbers Army end when chants of "Fuck Seattle" were clearly audible on the broadcast.

For now, that balance is one MLS is reluctantly willing to strike. The league and its TV partners clearly want the atmosphere without the less desirable parts. Groups like Timbers Army and ECS are happy for the attention, but don't seem too worried about having their microphones taken away.

But those are issues left to be settled in board rooms and don't seem to have much effect on the atmosphere inside the stadium.

As much as players may often claim that they don't pay attention to what is going on outside of the field, no one seems to play that card in these matches. It's no coincidence that Clint Dempsey mugged for Timbers Army after scoring, that Brad Evans triumphantly touched his crest and pointed toward ECS after a second-half goal or that Timbers players will still indulge fans looking for autographs and pictures hours after the match.

"We are very aware," Sounders right back DeAndre Yedlin said. "The fans give us that extra boost and almost make it feel like a home game even though it's our biggest rival. They are huge for us. I hope they understand how much of a difference it makes."