Throwback Derbies: Portland Timbers vs Seattle Sounders 10 June 1978

Derbies are essential in to formation of football identities. In the US, where the game has faced a plethora of obstacles, the Portland-Seattle rivalry has gained unprecedented popularity. Most football fans are familiar with the great Derbies of Europe and South America. Titles such as Derby Della Capitale, El Clasico, and Argentina’s Superclasico, are permanently imbued into the collective memory football fans. However, few are aware that in the far corner of Northwestern United States, there is a fixture that embodies the underrated legacy of football in North America.

Known as the Evergreen Derby, the I-5 Rivalry, El Clasico Verde, and the Pacific Northwest Derby; the myriad of names given to this fixture reflects its turbulent history. The two sides first played each other on May 2, 1975, and since the fixture has extended over several leagues including the USL First Division, the A-League, the NASL and Major League Soccer. Now in its 41st year of history, the rivalry has come a long way from the 1-0 opener for Seattle in front 8,000 people at Portland’s civic stadium.

What is likely the wildest fixture between these two sides came on June 10, 1978, during the NASL era. The Timbers faced Seattle with the chance to equal the the record for longest winning streak in in NASL history. A season high 15,526 filled the seats at the Civic Stadium.

The Timbers dominated regular time of the match, outshooting the Sounders 35-9, however they failed to capitalise on their dominance. This sent the game to an NASL style shoot out (as ties were not allowed at the time). The Yugoslavian referee, who the league brought in to raise the standard of officiating, yet did not speak English, would turn out to be an emblematic example of the chaotic nature of football in America.

As controversy and confusion mounted over the referee’s inexperience with English, and a unique penalty system, Portland’s fifth and final shot scored, gifting Portland their 8th consecutive win. After the game, Seattle’s manager filed official complaints about the managing of the shootouts, saying of the referee, “It would be like putting me in Yugoslavia and expecting me to understand”. Six days later Portland set a league record by beating the New England Tea Men in shoot-outs.

Following last week’s controversial fixture in the US Open cup, the two sides will meet again in the league on Saturday night. As the Timbers Army, and Emerald City Supporters set up in opposing sides of Portland’s Providence Park, there is little doubt that the best of America’s Tifo culture will be on display. Hopefully it will be another night to remember between these two shining stars of American football culture.