The rivalry between the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders is one of the most intense and historic in American soccer; starting in the days of the ill-fated North American Soccer League, returning to life in the A-League and USL, and carrying on today in Major League Soccer. On Wednesday evening, a new chapter in that rivalry will play out as the two clubs’ new USL sides, Portland Timbers 2 and Seattle Sounders 2, face off in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for the first time.
Seattle Sounders 2 host Portland Timbers 2 at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, WA on Wednesday, May 27th at 4:00 p.m. ET.
In the hearts of Timbers and Sounders fans, the Cup holds a special place. Since the teams’ USL era, the Timbers and Sounders have met in the U.S.’s oldest competition five times. Although the Timbers struck first, winning the 2005 meeting between the two teams, the Sounders would go on to win the next four in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2014. The Sounders would go on to win the U.S. Open Cup in 2009, 2010, and 2014, as well as once more in 2011 when they did not face the Timbers.
The Timbers' and Sounders’ first teams will face off in the fourth round of the Open Cup in June, adding yet another layer to the clashes between the two clubs at every level. The Seattle Sounders will host the Portland Timbers at Starfire on Tuesday, June 16th at 10:30 p.m. ET.
The intensity of the matches between the two sides has always been evident in the play on the pitch. Few know the feeling of those early cup matches better than Andrew Gregor, one of the few players to have suited up for both clubs and one of even fewer to have played an Open Cup match for both.
“In a cup format, it is a win or go home sort of scenario,” says Gregor. "Usually you don’t have those sort of scenarios until playoffs. And so, earlier in the season, in the middle of the season, you are in this win or go home scenario in the cup, which brings an extra intensity; not to mention the standard rivalry that you have between Sounders and Timbers, so it makes for a very, very exciting game."
Gregor, seen here playing for the then Division II Timbers, completed multiple stints with the Timbers in 2004 and 2007-08 as well as the Seattle Sounders in 1999-2000, 2001-02, and 2005-06.
With neither team willing to give an inch in their Cascadia derby matches, it should perhaps come as no surprise that in the five U.S. Open Cup matches between the Timbers and Sounders there have been red cards in four of them.
For Gregor, the possibility of a red card being shown is part and parcel of Open Cup matches. "I think tensions are going to fly either way, but there is that sort of thought of ‘you are not going to be a part of this competition any more if you don’t win.’"
Current Timbers first team assistant coach Cameron Knowles was red carded in the 2007 match between the two sides. Timbers’ starting midfielder Diego Chara was the most recent player to see red, getting sent off in the 2014 edition of the match up.
Now an assistant coach with Timbers 2, Gregor is helping head coach Jay Vidovich prepare his side for Wednesday’s match. It will not be the first time that T2 and S2 have faced off; the two sides have already met twice in their maiden USL campaigns with S2 winning a narrow 2-1 victory at home in April, then coming to Portland this past Saturday and beating T2 2-0 on the road.
Saturday’s game in particular was a contentious one, with a trio of early yellow cards to T2 failing to keep the hotly contested match under control. As tempers flared after the match, T2 defender Harrison Delbridge was shown a red card of his own for dissent, paving the way for an intense Open Cup reunion.
Looking forward to Wednesday, Gregor talked about T2’s approach to the upcoming match. “You are in a knockout competition; you do whatever you can to win that game. What matters is that we win that game and move on. That is kind of the unique aspect of the knockout competition side of it."
For both T2 and S2, the squads on hand are full of players with potential, being developed as possible future players for their respective first teams. Performances trump points for T2 in league play, according to Gregor, but not in a knockout match like this one.
Finding the balance between points and performance is less of a concern in the Open Cup. "In the knockout competition anything goes. You just want to win and move on,” Gregor says.To anyone watching the matches between T2 and S2, it is clear that the rivalry between the two franchises is already extending down to the USL sides and both teams will certainly want to move on.
On Feb. 9, 2013, the U.S. Women’s National Team kicked off the new year with a 4-1 victory against Scotland in Jacksonville, Florida. Christen Press, then 24-years-old, was responsible for two goals that day, scoring in the 13th minute and adding another in the 32nd to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead at halftime.
The early goal was Press’ first for the USA, coming in a match that was also her first cap.
Becky Sauerbrunn hugs Christen Press in the aftermath of Press scoring on her WNT debut.
Earning that first cap is special for any player, but a debut and a goal in the same game? That’s a rare feat. In the 30+ year history of the U.S. WNT 21 players have scored in their first caps.
NOTHING TO LOSE
Press’ path to that first game three years ago was an interesting one. In early 2012, she made the decision to move to Sweden after U.S.-based Women’s Professional Soccer folded. Press thought leaving the country might negatively impact her hopeful National Team career, but little did she know, it was only just beginning.
“I think just because I always thought that the National Teams would be watching the American league, I thought that going abroad was kind of like saying goodbye to my dream of playing for the National Team,” recalled Press. “I left around this time, in February, and I thought I would not get a call, I sort of thought that I would fall out of U.S. Soccer’s radar.”
As it turns out, head coach Pia Sundhage kept tabs on players in Europe, especially in her native land of Sweden. Press got off to a hot start with her new club, and it wasn’t long before she was on her way back home.
Press returned to the U.S. and joined the WNT in Florida in April during the final stretch of what had been an intense fitness camp. She kept to herself and tried to quickly learn as much as possible despite only being there for five days.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “It was my first camp, it was warm and I was so happy. I don’t think I spoke to anybody. I was not nervous, I was just happy to be in Florida and my dream was coming true. I’m always quiet when I don’t know my surroundings, so I just kept to myself trying to learn the rules, how to behave; it was all so quick.”
That short stint turned out to be the only one for Press before she was named an Olympic alternate in 2012. The following February, Tom Sermanni took over as WNT head coach, and it was then Press learned she would start against Scotland. Her chance had arrived.
“I went on the field, the crowd was so much bigger than I’d ever played in front of, and for me it was so much bigger than life,” said Press. “But I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m confident, I’m a good player and I believe in myself.’”
Years and multiple goals later, plus one Women’s World Cup title to her name, the dream is alive and well for Press.
Press celebrates scoring her first World Cup goal against Australia in the USA's opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup