You are not seeing things, nor is your TV broken. There is, in fact, a Major League Soccer game being shown on NBC this afternoon.
When Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers play for the second time this season, it will hardly be a historic milestone in the sport. But the fact that the 12:30 p.m. game will be shown on NBC is just another sign of the growth of MLS, as well as the strength of one of the best rivalries in American sports.
MLS hasn't had a regular-season game shown on network TV in more than four years. NBC Sports, the network's all-sports cable channel, shows MLS games weekly, but this is the first on the big network since it signed a three-year deal with the league last year -- and it's no coincidence that Seattle and Portland will be the first of three regular-season games shown on NBC this season.
"It's big," Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said. "It's big for the rivalry, it's big for the league. It shows the continued growth of the game and certainly the game in the Northwest. Hopefully a bunch of people that normally might not see it come across it and tune in and see the atmosphere down there. Hopefully it's a good game and we pick up some more fans."
Nobody in Seattle or Portland, not even the biggest soccer haters, can deny the popularity of the sport and the passion of the fans in the Northwest. But with the game getting a national showcase, the hope is that more of the country gets a glimpse of what soccer can be in this country.
"It's great that it's on NBC, because it gives the country an opportunity to see what we know in the Northwest," Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said. "... There's a lot of color, there's a lot of pageantry in their stadium and there's a lot of atmosphere there to absorb, and I think that comes through on TV. It comes through better if you're there in person, but it comes through on TV as well."
And TV viewership aside, this game is big for both teams as they hope to stake a claim to the Cascadia Cup, the trophy that goes to the winner of the series between Seattle, Portland and Vancouver. If the Timbers, who beat Seattle in Portland earlier this year, can win today, they'll clinch the trophy regardless of what Seattle does in its remaining games against Portland and Vancouver (the Whitecaps are already out of the running). Portland also figures to treat this as a gigantic game because it almost certainly is going to miss the playoffs, putting even more emphasis on the Cascadia Cup.
"We talked about, we're not ready to give the Cascadia Cup away yet," Schmid said. "We know that if they win, they'll then win the Cascadia Cup because they win the head-to-head with us."
Forward Eddie Johnson, who scored Seattle's only goal in a 2-1 loss to the Timbers earlier this season, said that first trip to Portland reminded him of some of the rivalry games he played in while in Europe.
"Arriving to the stadium and seeing their fans hitting the bus, giving us the finger, you couldn't ask for a better environment," Johnson said. "You don't see that at basketball games, you don't see that at football games in America. That's soccer, that's what we live for, that's the atmosphere we want to be in. And for a forward, there's no better feeling than scoring and silencing the home crowd."
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.
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