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Portland rivalry still blazes as hot as ever for Sounders

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Despite having to share the national spotlight, the best rivalry in MLS is still burning brightly in the Sounders’ locker room

MLS: Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

TUKWILA, Wash. – In an era of continued expansion and the introduction of other proximity-based rivalries in New York and LA, the decades-long beef between the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers still pulls the heartstrings of Sounders players.

“This is our derby match,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “These are our biggest three games of the year. We’re not happy about the first two. There’s a lot of reasons there’s a lot of things that stoke our flames and get us going for this game. I can’t say it any other way.”

The two teams are now being joined by other high-profile rivalries: The Hudson River Derby in New York, El Trafico in LA, and Ohio v. Precourt Sport Ventures in Columbus are all gaining traction as the league grows and expands.

Despite being pushed to a late start from a national TV perspective, Sunday’s match comes at a critical moment for both clubs.

Facing a Timbers team that has lost its last three matches, the Sounders are hoping to improve on a 2-6-3 league record in Providence Park and two losses to Portland earlier in the season.

“It’s a team that’s desperate in the moment,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “Three in a row without a victory. Ourselves on this run, we’re playing without any pressure, but it’s a team that can catapult itself with this win. It’s a team that we absolutely need to beat. With all that pressure (on Portland), all that aggression, the game can get a little crazy. We have to stay-level headed because we can’t lose any guys, but at the same time be as aggressive and as strong as possible.”

Staying level-headed will be important with the Chris Penso as the center referee, whose card-happy tendencies Sounder at Heart examined earlier this season.

Still, bad blood extends between players and fans alike in the Pacific Northwest and it seems likely there will be at least a flare-up, if not a full-on conflagration as Seattle looks to build a bonfire.

“It’s not just something that’s made up,” keeper Stefan Frei said. “The people care. It’s in your blood. It’s in your DNA. You can look at every opportunity as a challenge. There’s something here. There’s real animosity. They’re not going to be nice to us.”