Despite the headline, this piece has to start with lauding the winners of the 2011 Cascadia Cup. We’ve attended all three MLS Cascadia derbies and there can be no doubt that Sounders FC are the deserved winners.
After a poor first game, they have entertained in all three subsequent derbies scoring eight goals in them, remaining unbeaten after having the decency to allow their opponents the first goal in each.
All three were excellent games of football and Sounders showed at some points in each game facets of the best they have produced throughout the season. They have bigger targets in sight of course, but to have poached their first trophy can only serve to foster the belief that this is not a side that stalls at the finish line, but a bunch of professionals who know how to close the deal.
We’ll come back to the Sounders side later.
Saturday’s occasion was weird in many ways.
It’s not always a farewell and a hello combine to appear on the same day. This was the Vancouver Whitecaps first home derby in Major League Soccer. Their amazingly resilient fanbase experienced the atmosphere provided by the presence of a large and vociferous away support for the first time.
Photo: John May
The noise provided by the 500 in the official visitors’ section was consistent and magnificent, on one occasion making the press box even shake a little.
The presence of around 1000 other Sounders fans around the ground was a testament both to their loyalty, and the insufficiency of the allocation insisted upon by the ownerships of all three clubs. No Mr Roth, you didn’t know best.
Someone in Comrade Joe’s own ownership group, one of the other two clubs, or someone at MLS HQ needs to stand up to him; or more accurately and to more maturely de-personalise the issue, stand up FOR the fans instead of merely using them as a marketing tool for their own commercial interests.
Portland owner Merritt Paulson has adopted the most populist fan-friendly touch this season of all the major players, and one hopes he will speak up more publicly on behalf of all traveling supporters when doing so on behalf of his own.
The almost non-existent segregation in Vancouver resulted in at least one incident. Meanwhile, having declared that any more than 500 visiting fans was a ‘security threat’, Sounders FC took money from Amtrak to advertise train journeys to help additional fans go to Vancouver, while their corporate friends at Ticketmaster charged those fans large handling fees for buying them. In doing so, they piled hypocrisy upon idiocy – all of course in the name of profit. Those Sounders fans forced on to buying on the market were also sprinkled among the home fans.
One wonders if it was thhe intention all along to find alternative ways of profiting from Sounders fans’ fondness for away game travel, and the limit of 500 was just part of that. It puts their feigned outrage when the Whitecaps handed their own Supporters Groups tickets to Uniglobe, their own corporate sponsor, in a more cynical light.
Insufficient away fan allocation, will lead to poor segregation, will lead to flashpoints. We, and everybody else, said this on Day 1.
That issue aside, Caps fans reacted well to the visitors and we heard many post match anecdotal stories of the friendly welcome they extended to their neighbours from the south. We saw some hilarious interaction with some good natured banter.
Their hospitality managed to make the occasion both very Cascadian, and very Canadian.
Whitecaps supporters too have shown immense loyalty in turning up to watch a stuttering team and are perhaps the unsung heroes of MLS 2011.
Admittedly, they are a little behind Portland in terms of the general acceptance of Supporter Culture and arguments can be had as to how far behind they are compared to where Seattle fans were at the same point in their MLS development.
The fan numbers are there for Vancouver Whitecaps and one thing on this website’s wish list for 2012 is for the club to embrace their Supporter Groups in a manner that allows the flourishing of the supporter culture on gameday. The Caps players deserve the type of home game support their Cascadian rivals receive. It may even be worth a point or two along the way.
Both other Supporters Groups provide excellent game day supports while still harbouring modest disagreements on issues outside that environment. They bicker but bury that when the players are performing for the jersey.
The move to a new stadium allows all sides to make a fresh start. The arrival of a new coach next season allows a parallel renewal of vows between the fan base and the team.
All sides should embrace the opportunity to act within an environment of a ‘second expansion season’ and work alongside each other to give the players the organised vocal backing they deserve.
It should be a more important priority for Mr Barber than signing up another corporate sponsor.
In words he can culturally relate to, it won’t turn the Vancouver Southsiders into an Official Opposition but it may turn them into a Twelfth Man. All sides, Barber and the SGs should make allowances for any backing down from previous positions for the good of all.
On the pitch, one moment symbolised the differences between the two sides more than another.
Cast your minds back to the Portland Timbers v Sounders FC derby.
When Portland took the lead, our match reporters and, we are also informed, many Sounders fans, all individually believed Sounders would still win the game.
They equalised and then the Timbers took a second lead. Exactly as with the first, we all instinctively knew Sounders FC would win the game. Sounders centre-half Jeff Parke, whose own goal put Portland in the lead, hinted at it, while head coach Sigi Schmid referred to the phenomenon as his side ‘finding different ways to win’.
In that vein, the body language of the Vancouver Whitecaps’ players was fascinating when Brad Evans cooly stroked home the equalising penalty.
The heads went down. No-one seemed to rush to collect the ball and bring it forward. There seemed an appalling lack of the experienced players geeing up the younger ones. A fatefulness had set in. And it was only 1-1. It seemed that as early as the first half they had accepted their destiny.
They weren’t alone. The previously boisterous home crowd never quite recaptured the noise level of the first half hour. Of course an opposition goal deflates everyone, but it seemed too early to be so deflated.
Sounders fans reaction to losing the first goal was to sing louder. Sounders players reacted to the set back by a well deserved self-inflicted kick up the rear. There’s a reason why this side has so many come from behind wins. They use blows as an inspiration. They are self critical surely, but deep down they believe in themselves.
The fruits of that self-belief begets more victories which in turn brings win such as the late, late show in Kansas and Saturday’s win on Easy Street.
There is no such belief in Vancouver and Martin Rennie will need to summon all his Highland Braveheart powers of speech to engender it in this current crop of players.
For now, all that remains is one more huge occasion, the opening of BC Place next weekend where Portland Timbers are the guests.
Vancouver fans, many of whom praised the Sounders fans for their vocal support to us post-game, are in for another education.
Let’s hope, they and their executives work together to make sure it is learned.
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