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Portland-Seattle rivalry continues with preseason match in Tucson

Longstanding foes Timbers, Sounders face off again Wednesday night

Rivalries in North American sports develop over the course of decades. Cubs - White Sox, Canadiens - Maple Leafs, Red Sox - Yankees are all antagonisms that have had a century to marinate. Major League Soccer, on the other hand, just passed its silver anniversary. There are, here and there, some fleeting rivalries (remember Mutiny - Fusion?), but none have had the chance to stick.

Except one, and that one existed before Major League Soccer was a gleam in Doug Logan's eye.

The Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers have been rivals since both teams played in the old NASL and first met at what was then called Civic Stadium in Portland in 1975 (a win for the Sounders, fans will point out). The latest edition of the rivalry kicks off at Tucson's Kino North Stadium at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

The rivalry between the two cities can be hard to grasp for those of us outside of the Northwest. We tend to lump them into the same strong-coffee-indie-rock-rainy box. But it can get feisty for those who live in the two cities. Even the virtues of nearby mountains can be a bone of contention (Seattle's Mount Rainier beats Portland's Mount Hood by about 3,000 feet).

On field, even players who aren't from the area buy into the smack talk. Arizona-native and Seattle midfielder Brad Evans ginned up Portland fans before a match in 2012 with a comment about drinking. To be fair, the headline in the Portland Oregonian was way more inflammatory than what he actually said, but that's how the rivalry works.

Even here in Tucson, preseason matches can be a wild affair considering that the game is entirely a training exercise. There is a local chapter of the Timbers Army (Portland's supporter club) that shows up complete with banners and green smoke flares. While local Seattle fans aren't as organized, they can be just as feisty. Seattle fans in Tucson seemed to take particular delight in provoking reactions from fiery Portland defender Liam Ridgewell during his time with the team.

Seattle native and coach Brian Schmetzer probably has more reason to buy into the rivalry than anyone, having been affiliated with the team as either a player or staff off-and-on since 1980. He noted at a press conference on Tuesday night that the two teams do cooperate in some ways, offering scrimmages against each other when they are preparing for international competitions. However, the team will still be up for a hard fought match at Kino, even if it is preseason.

"We are, of course, arch-rivals," he said. "My message to my team was we need to play hard. We need to play fair but we need to play hard. We'll see what the game gives…we don't want it to turn into a wrestling match, but that's the history."

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"I don't even have to talk too much," said Portland coach GIovanni Savarese. "I have found that when the players know we are playing Seattle, it's like they are ready; they've built a desire."

In short, expect yellow cards and smoke.

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Curtis Dutiel

Timbers Army at Kino in 2019.