The greatest matches ever played in the Seattle vs. Portland rivalry
What makes Seattle vs. Portland the best rivalry in MLS? As Matt Pentz answers that question, he looks back on the greatest matches ever played between the Sounders and Timbers.
Aug. 12, 1975 | Portland 2-1 Seattle (ET) | NASL quarterfinals
A crowd of more than 31,000 packed into what was then called Civic Stadium for the first playoff game in series history, many of whom stormed the field after Tony Betts scored the golden-goal winner in extra time. Multiple themes can trace their roots to that emotional night in Portland: raucous atmospheres, tense games and a tendency for each side to use the other as a springboard toward greater heights.
April 30, 1977 | Seattle 3-2 Portland | NASL regular season
Also known as the Jimmy Gabriel game. In an act that feels charmingly outdated now, Gabriel, the former Sounders captain and newly installed head coach, yanked off his track suit and substituted himself on midway through the second half.
Seattle trailed 2-0 when Gabriel called his own number. It scored three times in the final half-hour to increasing hysterics from the Kingdome crowd. And that fall, despite having entered the Portland game winless and goalless in three, Seattle would earn a Soccer Bowl berth of its own.
July 1, 2009 | Seattle 2-1 Portland | U.S. Open Cup third round
Few matchups have better captured the rivalry's power dynamic. The Sounders, midway through their MLS expansion season, relished the chance to rub rival noses in their newfound success. Portland, temporarily left behind down in the USL, nursed the ever-present chip on its shoulders and viewed the Open Cup as a chance to cut its longtime foe down to size.
A plan was hatched during Seattle's bus ride down Interstate 5. If Roger Levesque were to find the back of the net, fellow Sounders forward Nate Jaqua was to pretend to chop him down like a tree. They didn't have to wait long: Levesque scored 48 seconds into the match, Jaqua unsheathed his imaginary hatchet, and an iconic goal celebration was born.
Levesque is still regarded as the pre-eminent villain in series history, and it wouldn't be his first or last run-in with Timbers fans. More on that later.
Nov. 7, 2013 | Portland 3-2 Seattle (Timbers win 5-3 on aggregate) | MLS Western Conference semifinals
Timbers defender Futty Danso practically lifted Jeld-Wen Field's old wooden roof off its hinges with the header that made it 3-0 early in the second half. He gave Portland fans a Levesque moment of their own when he ran, bewildered, toward the corner flag looking for somebody to hug.
The Sounders have historically held the upper hand in this rivalry. Entering this weekend and dating back to 1975, Seattle holds a 49-35-12 edge in the all-time series. Yet the Timbers have tended to strike first on the biggest stages, from the NASL and MLS playoffs to becoming the first Cascadian club to win a top-flight league championship in 2015.
June 16, 2015 | Portland 3-1 Seattle | U.S. Open Cup fourth round
Starfire Stadium in the Seattle suburb of Tukwila is not the most grandiose venue these teams have met in. If anything, with a capacity of less than 5,000 with low-frills amenities, it might be the least.
Yet there's a certain charm to Starfire, too. Fans are right on top of the action, and in the best of times, such intimacy brings out the best in the players. Such proximity can also heat emotions past the boiling point, as it did on that fateful June night two summers ago.
Three Sounders were red-carded -- Clint Dempsey was given an additional suspension for ripping up referee Daniel Radford's notebook in protest -- and the match ended seven-on-11. A trash can was thrown onto the field out of the beer garden behind one of the goals, and Radford's officiating crew was given a police escort off the field.
This wasn't the most well-played Sounders-Timbers game ever, or for the highest stakes. It was significant as a glimpse at the raw passion simmering beneath the surface.
Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based soccer reporter covering primarily the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.