Not-so-intense rivals

  • By John Boyle Herald Writer
  • Saturday, June 11, 2011 12:01am
  • Sports

Rivals? Sure. Bitter enemies? Welllllll, let’s not go that far.

That has been the consensus on both sides of the border this week when it comes to the rivalry between Seattle Sounders FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps, who play at Qwest Field tonight.

While the Seattle-Portland rivalry comes with some genuine animosity between the teams and the opposing fan bases, for whatever reason that nastiness just doesn’t seem to carry over to the Seattle-Vancouver rivalry even though that one actually has a slightly longer history, going back to 1974 when both teams joined the inaugural season of the North American Soccer League.

“Having played for so many London clubs, you always have the one team that you are the big rival against,” goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “With the others teams there’s not a lot of love lost, but it’s just not quite the same as that one team. I think that’s kind of where we’re at.

“It’s big and both teams want to make it happen, but it just doesn’t have the same bite to it.”

And Alex Burrows finger biting jokes aside, Keller’s assessment seems to be dead-on when it comes to Vancouver.

“I don’t think that the rivalry is at the level of the Portland-Seattle rivalry, and I say that by just observing,” said Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi, who played for the NASL Whitecaps for all 11 seasons of their existence.

“There’s not necessarily a dislike, but there’s a lot of emotion between the two clubs. The same applies to us, but it doesn’t feel like we’ve got that same level of animosity that there appears to be between Portland and Seattle.”

So why is that? Why does one rival located three hours to the south seem to stir up so many more emotions than the one three hours to the north?

Well here’s one theory: Canadians are just too darn nice to hate.

“I wasn’t sure what I was getting involved with, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” said Peter Vagensas, a born-and-raised southern Californian who spent two seasons in Seattle before signing with Vancouver in April.

“They are such nice, wonderful, welcoming people, so it’d be tough to have any animosity towards Canadians.”

I mean, think about it. Outside of Boston Bruins fans, who can work up a lot of dislike for the people of Vancouver? For 19 days last year, I called Vancouver home during the Winter Olympics, and to a man, woman and child, the people couldn’t have been more welcoming.

“They are friendly,” Sounders FC midfielder Roger Levesque agreed. “Absolutely. And they throw some ‘ehs’ in there.”

They also love beer and hockey, have the good sense not to shoot one another at an alarming rate, their cops ride horses, and for goodness sake, mullets are still socially acceptable there.

Portland, and let’s face it, Seattle, too, are home to a small but vocal population of hipsters who, while putting forth tremendous effort to not be cool, argue that their city is cooler than the other. Vancouver, meanwhile, lacks that pretense, despite the fact that it is a lot of ways a heck of a lot cooler than either of its neighbors to the south.

But fortunately, amongst all the love between would-be rivals, there is at least one instigator happy to stir things up. Brian Schmetzer, a Seattleite who played for and coached previous incarnations of the Sounders, is now an assistant coach for Sounders FC, and well as the designated hype man for rivalry games.

“Schmetzer said, ‘They’re Canadians, that’s why we shouldn’t like them,'” Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said. “I don’t know if that’s the case. I’ve had a few Canadians I’ve dealt with and I always seem to like them. so I don’t know what the case is there.”

Schmetzer, who can do dry humor with the best of them, explained why Vancouver should be just as hated as the Portland Timbers.

“A long, long time ago, when I was a young man, Canada was actually a foreign country,” he said. “Now they’re our allies and our friends. Back then it was like, you’re traveling somewhere exotic, a foreign country, and the battles between young Americans and young Canadians were just as fierce and when we traveled down to Portland, so the intensity of the games was just as high. And because it was a foreign country, it added a little bit of spice to the rivalry.”

And while Schmetzer isn’t suggesting we invade and colonize Canada — and least I’m pretty sure that’s not what he’s suggesting–he doesn’t have a problem stirring the pot.

“I still have nightmares about when our parents sent us on that Canadian exchange,” he said. “They sent us up there and dropped us off at a strange house with strange parents, and that was traumatic for me as a young man.”

Of course after saying that, Schmetzer goes on to praise the Whitecaps organization and talk fondly of his memories of playing against Lenarduzzi, who he calls a friend. So even Schmetzer, the guy waving his proverbial flag to try to spice up the rivalry, can’t avoid saying nice things about his neighbors to the north.

Rivalry? Sure. Just don’t look for this one to come with a whole lot of hatred.

Herald Writer John Boyle:

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