When the Timbers and Whitecaps entered MLS, nobody at the MLS front office knew how big the Cascadia Rivalry was, but the fans of the 3 teams knew how big it was. It meant bringing back the rivalry they have had since the 70’s.
The Cascadia Migration to MLS
When the Sounders moved to the MLS there was zero games played between the teams from 2009-2011. In 2011, the Timbers and Whitecaps continue to ride the Sounders coat tails in entering MLS and the Cascadia rivalry was back in full force on the highest stage and it entered like wildfire! The Cascadia rivalry proved that rivalries do exist in soccer, and to this day it is still the most intense MLS rivalry.
Money the root of evil
Unfortunately, someone at the front office decided it’s time to make money! Not just at the MLS front office, but at the USSF (United States Soccer Federation) and now CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football).
It all started in 2012 when MLS had an uneven number of teams and they had to readjust the schedule. Since the Cascadia Rivalry was huge the first year and MLS needed more money, their decision was to have the Cascadia teams play each other 3 times a year, instead of 2 times a year. Who knew that it was expensive for fans to travel to Portland 2 times a year and travel to Vancouver 2 times the same year? Who knew that the fan bases would get tired of playing each other so many times?
The fans did and it has made for poor television viewing; the experience suffers when you don’t see the supporter section as crowded at a Cascadia rivalry game and lately it has been harder to sell out these sections for the games.
Where are the fans?
In the hunt for the almighty dollar, the MLS has hurt the rivalry; let’s face it we don’t travel as much. Also, you have owners like Merritt Paulson raise the ticket prices because he knows it will sell out in his small former AAA baseball stadium and it hasn’t been easy for supporter groups selling their tickets. The intensity in the stands is still there, but the rush to buy tickets to away games is almost non-existent. Thank you MLS for spraying water on wildfire.
Cup doth flow over
Of course now that MLS has made their attempt to make money, it was another association that needed to get its paycheck. In walks the USSF and the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup a little over a month ago when the drawing of the 4th Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. What is the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup?
Imagine March Madness, but with soccer teams from different levels from all over the US and every once in a while there is a Cinderella in the tournament. For example: Cal FC (in 2012 a Sunday soccer league team coached by Eric Wynalda defeated the Timbers in Portland 1-0). In this year’s draw, there was a guarantee that 2 MLS teams were going to have to play each other in the 4th Round, while all other MLS teams would play a lower division team.
When it came up that the Sounders and Timbers were going to face off in the 4th Round every US soccer fan first thought was: “were not shocked by this at all.” Thank you USSF for continuing to pour water on the wildfire.
CONCACAF cuts interest in half
Who else could help turn this rivalry to ash? Who knew that CONCACAF could put more water on this wildfire? A few weeks ago there was the drawing of the CONCACAF Champions League tournament. What is this you ask? Now imagine the US Open Cup, but being played against the best teams from North, Central America and the Caribbean’s. Who was shocked to see the Vancouver Whitecaps in the same pool as the Sounders? No one! Thank you CONCACAF for continuing to help put the Cascadia rivalry wildfire out.
This year alone the Sounders will face the Timbers 4 times and the Whitecaps 5 times! That doesn’t even count playoff games! If the playoffs were to be played today there would be a good chance that the Sounders could play both teams another 2 times and if that was the case the Sounders would have played 13 games between 2 teams.
Too much of a good thing
Playing the same team too often lowers the quality and intensity of the rivalry. An oversaturation of matchups leads to boredom for the product. For the long-term health of the MLS and Cascadia Cup, in this author’s opinion, MLS should go to a balanced schedule: one home match, one away match, and leave it at that. Additionally, in tournaments, please do not manipulate the system to force rivalry matchups. Each game should be special events that rock the pillars of heaven, rather than a coin operated arcade game intent on squeezing every last quarter from fans.