Cascadia Corner: Welcome to Cascadia 3.0
By Steven Agen
The Seattle Sounders travel north to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place at 7pm on Friday evening, marking the first Cascadia derby of the 2017 MLS season.
While this series has always been filled with history and intrigue, this week’s match up feels special. It’s not just because it’s the first meeting between the sides as Cascadia Cup and MLS Cup holders, nor due to former Sounder Fredy Montero making his first appearance against Seattle. And it’s not just because it’s the first derby of the year.
Certainly all of those elements add story lines and excitement. But it doesn’t account for the feeling that there’s something fundamentally different about the dynamics within the region now.
When Cascadia completed its move up to MLS in 2011, it was clear that the passion and fervor of the fans contained within would add something new to the league. Tifo displays, smoke bombs and record attendance numbers became the norm when discussing our clubs.
However, Sounders were the only side of the three to make the playoffs in 2011. They bowed out in the conference semifinals before finally breaking through that stage (after four tries) the following year. Vancouver joined them in the 2012 postseason, but failed to advance past the knockout round. Timbers matched Sounders’ feat from a year before in 2013 when they made the conference finals for the first time.
But Seattle fell to LA in 2012, and Portland to Real Salt Lake in 2013. After three years (five for Seattle) of massive television coverage and unparalleled national attention, Cascadia still hadn’t won an MLS trophy.
The reputation began to develop as the expansion sides struggled in 2011, and was firmly cemented by 2013 — our clubs were far better at filling the stands than they were at winning MLS titles. Cascadia 1.0 was mostly about attendances and passion. It was not laced with silver.
That was about to change.
In 2014 Sounders won the Supporter’s Shield, and finally gave Cascadia a piece of the league’s silverware. They nearly made it to MLS Cup, only to be bounced by LA again. The shift had started, though. The reputation had taken a knock.
Portland accelerated that process significantly by upsetting Columbus on the road in MLS Cup the following year.
Many will argue it took watching their closest rivals taste success the season before to force Timbers’ front office to go out and sign high-profile players like Lucas Melano in their bid to stay competitive. While many of those same people will argue Melano was a bust in Portland, he did score away to FC Dallas in the conference finals to secure Portland’s MLS Cup bid. Would Gavin Wilkinson and Merritt Paulson have been so ambitious, if not for Seattle’s breakthrough the year before?
Honestly, that’s a tough question with a lot of moving pieces. An easier question is, “Did Sounders respond similarly the next year?”
The answer there is a resounding “yes.”
After sputtering to start the season (and eventually parting ways with Sigi Schmid), Sounders spent big on Nicolas Lodeiro and nearly ran the table on their way to matching Portland’s 2015 postseason campaign.
Two MLS Cups in a row, with a Shield before that? We don’t hear anyone talking about that old reputation anymore. In the era Cascadia 2.0, they talked trophies.
To show that Cascadia has picked up where it left off, Portland lead the league through six weeks of play. That comes after another big money off-season signing in the Melano vein with Argentine Sebastian Blanco.
Throw in Vancouver’s run to the CCL Semifinals this spring, and it’s clear that Cascadia is competitively stacked in a way it never has been before.
Timbers threw the dynamic into chaos by upsetting the little brother-big brother set up with Seattle. Sounders restored parity a year later while bringing more acclaim to the region. And now Whitecaps have signed Sounders’ all-time leading goal scorer and made the CCL Semifinals.
The old Cascadia hierarchy, the one that lasted for more than 40 years, is gone.
There is no hierarchy anymore.
Everyone is the super-club now, everyone is big brother.
And that’s why Friday feels so different. It’s our first look at this brave new world.
We’ve finally pushed each other into mutual greatness. It took six years but, in the competitive sense we’ve finally arrived as a group.
Welcome to Cascadia 3.0, and enjoy.