Public enemy No. 1

  • By John Boyle Herald Writer
  • Thursday, May 12, 2011 12:01am
  • Sports

TUKWILA — Somewhere along the line Roger Levesque, one of the most likeable guys on the Sounders FC roster, became public enemy No. 1 for Portland soccer fans.

Maybe it was in 2003 when he had a run-in with Portland’s goalkeeper. Or perhaps it was years later when a goal celebration was misi

nterpreted as a rude gesture. Or perhaps it’s just been the number of big goals Levesque has scored against the Timbers during his career with the United Soccer League Sounders and now the Major League Soccer version of the team.

But whatever it is, one thing is clear. The Timbers fans that make their way to Seattle for Saturday’s game — the first between the longtime rivals since Portland joined the MLS — will reserve a special amount of venom for Levesque should he make an appearance Saturday.

“I don’t know,” Levesque said when asked why all the animosity from Timbers fans. “I think I’ve just been around a long time, I’m an easy target.”

Levesque then points to his scraggly beard, an on-again, off-again look throughout his career. “And look at me.”

Of course Levesque hasn’t always gone out of his way to make nice with Timbers fans. After scoring a goal early in a 2009 U.S. Open Cup game in Portland, Levesque and Nate Jaqua teamed up for a goal celebration that had Jaqua “chopping down” Levesque, who played the part of a tree.

More than anything, Levesque figures Timbers fans are hard on him simply because he’s been around for a long time.

After a standout career at Stanford, Levesque started his professional career with the San Jose Earthquakes, but spent the bulk of his career with the USL Sounders. His lengthy career in Seattle means Timbers fans have been rooting against him far longer than they have anyone on the current Sounders FC roster.

“We’ve had a good run against them and just playing them over and over again,” Levesque said. “Any of the USL guys would say there’s that passion and rivalry. For me, there may have been a few incidents that were misunderstood between myself and the fans.

“At one point I had scored a goal and was down on my knees celebrating, and they thought I was making a rude gesture — flipping them off — but I absolutely was not. Maybe that will make a difference if I get that out in the open.”

Of course Levesque laughed at his own suggestion that clearing the air might lead to better treatment from Timbers fans.

If ever there was a time for Levesque and Timbers fans to burry the hatchet — or in Portland’s case, the chainsaw — it was in the fall of 2007 when Levesque actually donned a Timbers uniform. Following the 2007 season, Portland hosted Toronto FC in an exhibition game, and at that point current Seattle players were weighing their options for the following season. With Seattle set to join MLS in 2009, there was uncertainty about whether or not the USL team would exist in 2008, so Levesque was invited by Portland to play in the exhibition.

When he took to the field, he was greeted by a large banner that read: ‘True fans hate Levesque.’

“So yeah, I had a nice warm welcome,” he said with a laugh.

Sounders FC assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, who coached Levesque with the USL Sounders as well, also is at a loss when it comes to explaining Portland’s hate for Levesque.

“I don’t know why,” Schmetzer said. “Roger is the nicest guy on our team almost. He and (fellow former USL and current MLS Sounder) Taylor Graham are such nice guys. They’re Stanford guys. They’re smart, funny, articulate. For some odd reason (Timbers fans) thought Roger kicked one of their goalkeepers in the face in 2003, I think that’s the root of that rivalry.”

Despite the banners and chants at his expense, Levesque finds the abuse he takes from Portland fans more amusing than offensive.

“I enjoy the banter, the back and forth,” he said. “You just know they’re passionate about the game and about their team, and they’ll do anything they can to get under the opposition’s skin. I think it’s good for the game.”

And the Levesque-Portland subplot has a lot better chance of factoring into Saturday’s game than it figured to only a few weeks ago.

Recent injuries have moved Levesque into a more prominent role on the team, and with Seattle playing twice last week, he made his first season start and toiled the entire 90 minutes. While Levesque is less likely to start again this weekend, his versatility and track record of success against Portland gives him a good chance of getting into the game.

As interesting as his rivalry with Portland is this week, the bigger-picture story about Levesque is that he is one of the few players who made the transition from the USL to the MLS. He is once again a big contributor for Seattle.

“It’s perseverance, it’s quality,” Schmetzer said. “It’s a testament to his being able to adapt to different coaching styles. When Sigi came in (Levesque) was with me for a long time. He certainly was a good player in his own right as a college player, but then he blossomed with me in the USL days.

“He had some good strike partners with Sebastien Le Toux on the USL team and now he gets to play with Fredy Montero. A guy like Roger thrives on that kind of partnership where he can do some of the little things, the dirty work, the dog work that allows Montero, that allowed Sebastien to be who he was, and Roger relishes those opportunities.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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