Impressions From The Cascadia Summit: Aaron Campeau On Seattle Sounders Vs. Portland Timbers

Posted In Match Previews and Reviews - By Kevin McCauley On Tuesday, March 8th, 2011 With 0 Comments

Because Aaron Campeau is awesome, he wrote this opus for The Allocation Order about a preseason match. You can find Aaron’s work on 7500 to Holte and SBNation Soccer.

Like most smug and self-superior ubran dwellers, I don’t spend a whole lot of time outside city limits. I can get you pretty much anywhere in Seattle with the only information required being a pair of intersections, but once I leave the city limits I am hopeless. This presented a problem for me on on the evening of March 7th, as all of the events that were a part of the weekend’s Cascadia Summit took place at Starfire Sports in Tukwila, Washington a town notable for being the original terminus of Seattle’s light rail system (and in that case only because it took longer than expected to finish the connection to the airport) and very little else. Another stereotype of the citygoer that I will happily admit to living up to is a refusal to pay for any parking other than at the meter. Nevermind the fact that the $3 being charged by lots a half-block from the stadium would have been cheaper than the $4 one would expect to pay if parked in downtown Seattle for two hours; it’s the principle of the thing. Unfortunately the only free parking to be had within any reasonable walking distance of the complex is found at business parks kind enough to offer up the use of their lots to those attending games located a twenty minute walk away. During the summer, the trek isn’t so bad; the sun doesn’t completely fade until around 10:00 PM, it seldom rains and the trail that winds along the Green River, which separates the business parks from  Starfire, makes for a pleasant stroll. It’s an altogether different story in early March.

At this point I’d like to offer two pleas: first, to those of you making this same journey in the future-a path might appear to be a shortcut but it could just as easily be a giant, ankle deep mud pit or a pile of wet straw, God knows how deep, forcing you to choose between a march towards the impending doom of being suffocated by wet hay or a leap across a muddy ditch full of broken glass and a walk down along a three-inch wide ‘shoulder’ down an unlit and winding highway. Please, for the sake of not only yourself but also your loved ones, take the longer but less deadly route. Second, to the City of Tukwila; please, build some sidewalks. You can make it a work party. I’ll take the train down, it’ll be fun. We’ll get beers. Just, for the love of all that’s holy. Concrete can’t be that expensive.

Starfire itself is a very nice facility; the complex of twelve soccer fields and other athletic facilities was built primarily to serve youth and adult recreational soccer leagues but is also the training home of the Seattle Sounders and the 4,500 seat Starfire Sports Stadium has also been the site of many Sounders exhibition and US Open Cup matches. Watching a Sounders game at Qwest is an awesome experience; the atmosphere is fantastic and it’s difficult to match the creature comforts and other features of a modern NFL stadium. It has its drawbacks as well; while Qwest was designed with soccer in mind and is in no way poorly designed for the purpose, it’s certainly a less intimate experience than the majority of soccer specific stadiums. That’s not at all an issue at Starfire; from my seat on the back row (and that ‘on’ isn’t a typo; the stands were so packed that my friends and I were forced to stand on top of the bleachers) I still felt a lot closer to the action than I normally would for a Sounders league match.

There are other advantages to the more intimate setting as well; the general admission supporters section at Qwest is the only place I’d want to see a game in the venue, but at Starfire ECS sets up residence in the final third of the covered stand as opposed to the open area behind the goal at the Sounders normal matchday home with the results being a better view of the game by virtue of seeing the action from the side as well as the roof and tight quarters serving to amplify the noise coming from the fans. Starfire certainly isn’t as loud as Qwest in terms of sheer volume, but from inside the stand it feels just as loud (if not louder) and given the difference in size, that’s no mean feat.

The noise is impressive for any game at Starfire, but it was most certainly kicked up a notch for the weekend’s opening Sounders-Timbers match. I’ve never been to a Conference or other non-league derby match in England, but the atmosphere that evening was pretty close to what I’d always imagined it would be. The Sounders fans were obscenely loud, and though Timbers Army didn’t have anywhere near their number or the advantage of the sound-amplifying covered stand they were clearly audible to me during the rare lapses in noise surrounding me despite their being located about as far away from my position as possible. After the Timbers first goal their cheers could be heard over ECS who were still in full voice. It was an impressive display from both supporters groups, with the Timbers going so far as to bust out the flares after Kenny Cooper’s goal in injury time put things well and truly out of reach.

This is known as an especially contentious rivalry and the summit organizers took precautions towards making sure no incidents took place. It was clear early on that such an occurrence was unlikely; Timbers and Sounders fans had plenty of amicable interaction outside the stadium before the game. There were separate entrances for the two groups, but when we arrived and headed towards the Seattle side we were told not to bother as we saw plenty of folks wearing he colors of either team streaming through the gate. Timbers Army marched out afterwards, half-heartedly taunting any big groups of Sounders fans they encountered but generally just enjoying their team’s win in a non-antagonizing fashion. The closest thing to an incident that I witnessed all evening occurred when a couple decked out in Timbers gear pulled up in a car, the man taking his dog for a walk and the woman looking towards my friend and myself and singing “Kenny f*****g Cooper” before stopping awkwardly and looking away; my assumption would be that she had thought we were Timbers fans before we turned and she saw our scarves. Things can and almost certainly will become more contentious once the games count for something and there have been incidents between supporters of the clubs before, but any paranoid and irrational fears of rampant soccer hooliganism weren’t to be realized on this particular night.

As for the game itself? Neither side looked especially polished, which is to be expected to a certain extent from the pre-season. It’s tough to say that the Timbers had the better of the play, but it’s equally tough to make the assertion that the win wasn’t deserved. Seattle’s problems are fairly well known at this point; James Riley is a very good attacking right back, but he can be a liability in defense. Leo Gonzalez was never especially great going forward but in what should be a cause for concern for Sounders fans his struggles towards the end of last season appear to be the signs of decline rather than an extended run of bad form. Portland’s first goal was largely the result of Gonzalez getting absolutely torched on the wing and he was culpable (along with, it must be said, the entirety of Seattle’s defense) for the Timbers’ second. The defense of the counter attack is still a problem. Blaise Nkufo and Fredy Montero still have some work to do in terms of forming a solid working partnership up front. Perhaps most worryingly was the fact that Alvaro Fernandez looked completely lost on the evening, showing little of the promise he displayed in his few appearances last season.

Things weren’t all bad for the Sounders; Jhon Kennedy Hurtado doesn’t look quite as good as he did before his injury, but there also wasn’t much reason to think he won’t get back to that level as the rust is knocked off. Steve Zakuani continues to improve, and his runs both on the ball and off were far more varied and creative than I’d seen from him in the past. Erik Friberg showed a lot of promise and Oswaldo Alonso was by far the best player in rave green and probably the best player on the pitch. And really, do any among us not believe that Alvaro Fernandez will be fine? Despite those bright spots, Portland were impressive. There was a clear gap in talent, but the Timbers were extremely well organized and executed their game plan to perfection. Their style wasn’t negative, but there was a clear intent to play the back line deep and look for the counter and it was absolutely the right call. The play of their outside backs Wallace and Purdy was not especially good with Purdy in particular having a devil of a time with Zakuani but their central pairing of Goldthwaite and Brunner were exceptional. If Sal Zizzo can stay healthy he’s going to be a very dangerous player. I was especially impressed with Jack Jewsbury; I thought he was an excellent pickup for the Timbers and he did not disappoint on the evening. If that was the player the Timbers can expect to show up this season then his acquisition was a serious coup.

In the end, it was a fun evening which is the ultimate goal of a pre-season match from the perspective of a fan. With that said, I’m still not convinced that the Cascadia Summit as it happened was really all that great of an idea. Though I did not attend any of the weekend’s other events, I’ve heard from others that the meetings between the front offices and supporters groups were a great success. The matches between the youth teams were a fantastic idea. But the centerpiece events, the three-way ‘friendlies’ between the Cascadia clubs, seem to be a bit much. These were ostensibly training games after all, but the play was significantly more spirited (and the tackling quite a bit more robust) than one might normally expect from games being played at this stage. And while I don’t think any of the tension that promises to make these games some of the most watched in all of MLS this season has ebbed, it does feel as though some of the anticipation has been taken out of things. I love the idea of fostering an amicable relationship between the clubs and their supporters in terms of off-the-field interaction; there is in this region a very real sense of shared values, culture and pride in our home, and we should be celebrating those bonds just as strongly as we despise each other for 180 minutes each season. But I can’t help but feel as though these games themselves, as intense and spirited and meaningful as they always will be, should take place only when there is something tangible at stake.

About Kevin McCauley - Kevin McCauley is the Editor in Chief of The Allocation Order. He is also the managing editor at World Soccer Reader and a contributor on multiple levels to SBNation

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