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Talking ‘Seattle loves Portland’ with Roger Levesque

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A Q&A with the player Timbers fans love to hate.

There is no figure more closely associated with the Sounders-Timbers rivalry than Roger Levesque. The longtime Sounder — and very short-time Timber — now works for VICIS as a business development manager. The company is best known for making football helmets designed to help limit concussions.

Sounder at Heart caught up with him to discuss the recent promotional campaign titled “Seattle Loves Portland, Maine.” Levesque is from the Portland, Maine area and seemed like an obvious candidate to be a spokesperson for the campaign.

Who’s idea was this? How did you get involved?

I was approached a couple months ago about participating. I don’t know how long the idea had been on the back-burner, but given the upswing on the rivalry campaigns — with the Sounders’ deep dive into the 100th meeting and the Timbers’ mockumentary — it seemed like the right time to put some things into motion. With me growing up in the Portland area, it made sense to get involved.

And you went to Portland, Maine to film all this stuff?

Yeah, I went with a small team and spent two days essentially walking around the old port, interviewing people — people like the mayor, a lobsterman, the local donut shop (The Holy Donut) — just talking to people about soccer, the Sounders and the rivalry. I was in full uniform for those two days, so I got a lot of funny looks. People knew about the Sounders and at one point or another, inevitably we’d run into someone I’d played sports against. There were a lot of friendly faces, which was great.

How much cajoling did you have to do to get people to participate?

There were a lot of willing participants and people were excited to get involved once they understood what we were doing and my connection. It was a pretty easy sell, even to the point of having a Portland, Maine pub partner in Ri Ra and having a viewing party while I was out there.

Was there much of a turnout for that?

A lot of friends and family came out for that and it was on the tail end of the Champions League final. We were there and had a strong contingent of Sounders fans, but were a little overpowered by Liverpool fans ... there was a little bit of red. Didn’t realize that was the spot for Liverpool fans to watch. It turned into a pretty good party. Even at one point, I tried to rally the entire bar during halftime of the Champions League game with a “Seattle, Sounders’ cheer. It was more-or-less successful, there were a few disgruntled folks who weren’t entirely sure what was going on and there may have been one Timbers fan there who was mixing in some expletives. So I don’t think you’ll see any videos of that in the marketing material, unfortunately. But it was me standing on a milk carton in front of a full bar saying “Seattle” and a fair amount of people saying “Sounders” right back.

How often do you get back to Portland?

Two or three times a year, usually for the holidays and once a year just to visit. My parents are still in the Portland area and some of my best friends from high school are still there. Growing up in the Portland area, and playing sports, inevitably you run into people you played against. I played soccer, basketball and baseball, so it ends up being a pretty broad spectrum of people. Whether it’s the manager at the Holy Donut or the fire station where we captured some footage, there were people I played against and not just soccer. It is a pretty tight-knit community. It was a great place to grow up. We were welcomed with open arms, in most cases.

In what ways is Portland better than Portland?

No question that the Maine blueberry is better than the offerings from Voodoo Donuts. In this project, I got to do some research and the things that stuck out to me were the stories. That Portland, Oregon was basically founded by two guys; one was from Portland, Maine and the other from Boston, and it was a coin-flip to determine what it would be named. So obviously Portland won. That was something I didn’t know. My mind went right away to the brewery scene and the PNW in general has such pride in craft breweries and I think Portland, Maine has made a name for itself in that world and has even more craft breweries per capita. Portland, Oregon has more in general, but you have to wait in line longer for those beers.

And isn’t Portland, Oregon just one of like 30 Portlands in the country?

Yes! Charlatans in their own right, which I think is one of the monikers they had for me in the mockumentary. I like to say who’s the charlatan now?

I have to imagine that this is one of the more personal and fun promos you’ve done with the Sounders.

Yeah, no question about it. Having been a part of this since 2003 when I started playing for the Sounders, and having it drilled into my head that this rivalry goes back way farther that iteration, from guys like Brian Schmetzer, Jimmy Gabriel and Darren Sawatzky. To see rivalries sparking interest around the league, in my eyes this is where it started. For me to be a part of it on a personal level, every time there was always something that came up it would spark those flames. It was just fun to be part of and I’m so excited to see where it goes.

Did you appreciate that the local paper there jumped into the fray?

Rightfully so, if they have a Diego Valeri fan running their social media. I think he may have been shooting from the hip a little bit. I guess the Timbers even sent him a jersey. The Timbers were really reaching there, sending a fully signed jersey. I do appreciate the involvement regardless. That’s what’s so great about rivalries, it gives people the chance to participate and chime in. Ultimately, it’s good for the game. All perspectives welcome.