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In Search of the Borderline

Ever wonder about the whereabouts of the dividing line for loyalty to Seattle vs Portland sports? Come along as we head south down I-5 to learn where Rave turns to shades of forest green in the Sounders vs Timbers rivalry.

Likkit Pocinwong

One-hundred seventy-three miles separate the Cascadian battlefields of CenturyLink Field and Providence Park. In between are significant mileposts positioned along Interstate 5: Tacoma, Olympia, Centralia, Longview and Vancouver.

And somewhere between where Merritt Paulson placed his Soccer City signage in 2011 and the state borderline under the Columbia lies the dividing line, where the Rave yields to the deeper green color of the arch-rival.

Throughout the world of football there are myriad rationale why fans flock to one side of a derby or another. In close quarters it will likely be differences of religion, social class, political ties or cultural heritage. Generally, however, geography is always a factor. The next most proximate league club to one’s neighborhood is thine enemy. And so it is with Seattle and Portland, and it has been since territorial times of Oregon and Washington.

Whereas on Cascadia’s northern front the Peace Arch pretty much settles whether you’re a Sounders or Whitecaps loyalist, there is no monument marking where one’s allegiance shall be to Stumptown or the Emerald City. Instead of black and white it’s all about Pacific Northwest shades of gray, and those gradients begin in our own backyard.

Going South: It’s a Mix

Just as there are Ducks and 49ers faithful mixed into the masses of Dawg fans and 12s, there’s a bit of Portlandia inhabiting Puget Sound. The Timbers confirm that "several dozen" season ticket holders can be found in both Seattle and Olympia. Sounders FC responded by claiming "dozens" of Rave season ticket members reside in the Portland metro area. Touché.

As someone raised midway between Seattle and Portland, it seemed only natural to begin the search for a borderline in the hometown of my youth, Centralia. In the early days of cable TV and before I was old enough to drive, I could watch both Sounders and Timbers telecasts on local channels and, most importantly, Sounders versus Timbers games. ROOT Sports has long since pretty much extended those privileges throughout the region.

Centralia also tends to be the pull-off point for southbound Sounders buses and, presumably, also northbound Timbers. A mile or so east of the interstate and the outlet malls is O’Blarney’s Irish Pub on Tower Avenue. Managing partner Jeff Malloy notes that the O’Blarney’s location in Olympia is solidly behind Seattle. But here, 25 miles closer to the enemy, there are significantly more sympathizers.

"It’s at least 60/40 Sounders fans, for sure," says Malloy, judging by the jerseys he sees. "The Portland fans have become a little more vocal because they’re the champs, but the numbers remain about the same."

Sounders FC conducts youth camps only as far south as Tumwater. Centralia Youth Soccer president Keith Neeley has asked both clubs to conduct clinics only to find out he’s in No Man’s Land.

"Tried asking (Portland and Seattle) to come to do a clinic here," Neeley writes. The Sounders, he said, claim Centralia is too far south; Portland considers it too far north. But, Neeley confirms that the Rave "seem to be more popular here."

"I’m not sure where the (50/50) line gets drawn," offers Malloy, "but this is getting pretty close."

No real sign of overt favoritism; no Sounders or Timbers teams in local youth ranks. Still, the Lewis County YSA badge is blue and green.

Crossing Over

South of Centralia and Chehalis are smaller towns such as Napavine, Castle Rock and Winlock. Each has youth programs. Strangely, some 25 years ago Winlock (home to world’s largest egg) hosted a preseason Battle of Seattle between the men’s soccer teams of Seattle Pacific and Seattle U. Now you know what the ruckus was about.

Somewhere in the midst of the rural stands of evergreens and rolling farmland exists the point where folks, while Washington citizens, are more likely to Portland partisans.

The next city of size is Longview, situated 50 miles north of Portland and just across the Columbia from Rainier, Oregon. Longview was home to the mighty Timber Barons club of the 1920s and the Cowlitz youth premier club has coupled itself to history by adopting that name. Merchandise-wise, it’s a dead zone: no MLS jerseys available for sale at either the local Big Five or Fred Meyer.

Triangle Sports Pub & Grub stands on Washington Way. "Here, you’ve probably crossed the line," says manager Mick Anderson. "Soccer interest ranges between moderate to severe, and when the Timbers are playing we have a packed house."

Without question, Triangle patrons are squarely behind the Seahawks, Mariners and Blazers. However, it becomes a house divided over Pac-12 sports (UW, WSU, Oregon) and soccer. Anderson notes there are locals who are unabashedly pro-Sounders. "But I’d call it 70/30 for the Timbers," he says.

Ain’t No Battleground

Thirty-six miles farther south, Battle Ground is aptly named for a 50/50 DMZ. Yet a check with the Rancho Viejo Sports Bar confirms this is no battleground. Rather you will find ambivalence; there just isn’t that much interest in soccer, at least on the TV screens. Driving deeper into Clark County, though, clearly this is Timbers country.

Vancouver is the state’s fourth-largest city and although it is Washington’s sentinel on the north shore of the Columbia, it’s squarely in league with Portland. The first clue: the city’s premier youth club is Washington Timbers FC. It is an official partner to the MLS club.

In fact, Portland’s Homegrown boundaries claim Vancouver, Camas and all the territory extending 50 miles from Providence Park. In fact, the Timbers’ first homegrown signing, former UW star Brent Richards, hails from nearby Camas.

Mike Herrera manages Just Sports apparel in the Vancouver Mall. He sells Seahawks and Mariners jerseys. Even 49ers, but not Sounders. Just Timbers.

There are more Timbers season ticket holders here than Portland suburbs on the Oregon side. "Vancouver represents the second-largest municipality for Annual Member of Wait List accounts," confirms a PTFC source.

"The Sounders are a Washington team and we’re in Washington, but we’re way too close to Providence Park," says Herrera. "It’s maybe a 25-minute drive. That’s where you make your allegiance."

Frank MacDonald is a Seattle soccer journalist and historian. This story first appeared on his website and has been republished here with his permission.

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