Last Sunday evening, if you weren’t otherwise busy watching the Olympics Closing Ceremony or large dudes in spandex fighting each other, you were no doubt enraptured with the latest edition of the Cascadia Derby. The Portland Timbers made the 4-hour trek north into enemy territory to meet the Seattle Sounders in a late-season clash with huge implications for both team’s playoff hopes.
A somewhat turgid first half gave way to an explosive latter 45 and the home side claimed a 3-1 victory, thanks to a brace from Clint Dempsey. The win put the Sounders solidly back in playoff contention after a rough season to date— one which saw the team’s first manager in the MLS era sent packing and no permanent replacement likely due until the offseason— and injected new life into a rivalry that was threatening to grow a bit stale.
That’s the basic story of what went down on Sunday. What we didn’t mention was the obvious cry for help from Seattle fans.
Sounders supporters are routinely praised for having some of the best tifo displays in the league and, increasingly, the world.
In MLS at least, the only other set of supporters that tends to even come close to matching them are the Timbers Army.
Sounders fans, led by groups such as the Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC, are known for their dedication and for bringing their A-game for the really big occasions.
Which made their display on Sunday somewhat worrying.
In one of their biggest games of the season, Sounders fans resorted to relatively small long banners, with black type on cream background, spelling out lyrics from “”Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley. While the music video played directly overhead on a jumbotron screen.
It, um. It was a bold choice. Going hyper-minimalist with banner art and incorporating an internet meme from 2007 definitely surprised a lot of people. We're just… we're not sure it was the good kind of surprise, you know?
Kelly Welles at Football Ramble wrote that the elaborate tifo displays from MLS supporters had started making English fans look bad, but that Seattle had, gratefully, decided to phone this one in.
”Even our American cousins have raised their tifo game of late; most notably when NY Red Bulls offered a satirical response to rivals New York City adding Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard to their roster. Thank goodness for Seattle Sounders. Without them we might have become a laughing stock of global football, a population throbbing with potential that never quite manages to get it together when it matters. For while the Sounders tifo game is generally strong, it's fair to say that their effort at the infamous derby vs. Portland Timbers on Sunday night fell so wide of the mark, they might have been better off sticking to bits of cereal box and gaffer tape. Oh wait. They did.”
Welles went rather easy on Seattle fans. The rest of the internet was less forgiving.
With snark reaching critical levels, the Emerald City Supporters released a statement defending their artistic choices. They pointed out that they were doing tifo before it was cool and that #SeattleInvented intimidating atmosphere, that everyone in MLS is too enslaved by capitalism and media hype to really understand what they’re trying to do here, that what to us is a very dank meme is actually a heartfelt anthem of passion and dedication, and that their devotion to their team is stronger than high ticket prices and the voyeuristic consumer culture in MLS.
The Sounders and the Timbers meet once more in the league this season, and it’s this Sunday in Portland. Both teams are still in a fierce fight to make the playoffs. With the postseason on the line and Seattle’s display garnering international attention, the stakes for the Timbers Army’s tifo this Sunday have perhaps never been higher.