Heading into the final game of the regular season this Sunday, the teams topping the MLS Western Conference standings are the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Portland Timbers and the Seattle Sounders. With the Timbers/Sounders derby being one of the best in the MLS, the border crossing rivalries between all three clubs have been widely celebrated. While these teams look ahead to the high possibility of the playoffs and a chance to keep the MLS Cup on the west coast (won by the Portland Timbers in 2015 and the Seattle Sounders in 2016) Sunday will mark the final game in another competition, the Cascadia Cup.
Cascadia, a bioregion running along the western edge of North America, spans across six US states including Washington, Oregon and the Canadian province of Vancouver British Columbia. With its own flag and a constant separatist movement underway, Cascadia signifies more than lush landscapes. Amid the bioregionalism, the word Cascadia has also become a rallying point for the fans of these same three MLS soccer franchises, the only teams eligible to win the Cascadia Cup due to their location in Cascadia.
This regional competition has been around since the mid-1970s, however the Cup itself was created by the fans in 2004 during the years that all three teams played in the United Soccer League (USL). In 2011 the cup was contested for the first time in the MLS when both the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps joined the league. A unique competition, the Cup is actually given to the supporter club of the winning team.
Patch Perryman, longtime Timbers Army member, explains, “Each of the primary supporter groups in Vancouver (Southsiders), Seattle (Emerald City Supporters) and Portland (Timbers Army) put some cash together and commissioned the trophy we call the Cascadia Cup.” The winner of the Cup is determined by which club has the best record in matches against another Cascadia club. Patch continues, “The Club that had the best record amongst those contests would result in their SG [supporter group]getting to keep the Cup in their possession until next year. The Cup wasn’t kept in the Club’s stadium, and not in their trophy case; but in the homes of their supporters, or their favorite pub or in the back seat of their car.”
The regional supporter groups, who have made it clear that they want no advertisers or sponsors to gain profit off this contest, have always fiercely protected this organic fan created award. It was for this reason that the region found itself at war with the MLS in 2013 in an effort to prevent the league from trademarking the term “Cascadia Cup”. After the MLS filed a trademark in Canada to own the rights to “Cascadia Cup” the Cascadia supporter clubs responded by creating the Cascadia Cup Council (CCC), a non-profit group that includes representatives from each of the three major supporter groups.
After almost a year of negotiations, the CCC and the MLS reached an agreement in 2014, which stated the league recognized that the Cascadia Cup would stay a “supporter-owned cup”. This made it possible for the Cascadia Cup Council to retain all rights to the Cup including the name, logo and trophy likeness. This also meant that the CCC had the ability to keep out advertisers and sponsors.
John Knox, current Vice President of the Vancouver Southsiders and Cascadia Cup co-founder, explains what the Cup means to the region:
“We felt strongly that the historic nature of this rivalry deserved to be celebrated. It means everything to us. When we win it, our hearts soar. When we lose it, our hearts ache and we begin plotting the next season’s revenge. It is one of the purest things left in North American football. It is a symbol of the love and pride that we supporters feel for our clubs. It is untouched by advertisers and league executives who would otherwise seek to monetize it. We set the competition rules, and we present the trophy to our heroes on the pitch when it is won. It’s not just a piece of silver for the trophy case – it’s a shining testament to what can be achieved when supporters work together.”
Cascadian matches also tend to be the most popular games of the season within the three franchises. While monetizing it nationally remains taboo, there is almost always separate merchandise sold for these games, most of which have been based off the original Cascadian flag created by Portlander Alexander Baretich in 1994.
With or without the special gear, the great majority of fans within the region know that a game against Seattle or Vancouver goes beyond points for the overall rankings. To play a Cascadia game is to play for the pride of the region.
Over the last seven years the Portland Timbers have only won the Cup once (2012) for their supporter group since entering the MLS, while the Whitecaps have won three times (2013, 2014 & 2016) for the Southsiders.
Separated by a slim margin, the Whitecaps sit just two points ahead of both the Timbers and the Sounders in the standings. A victory on Sunday will solidify a playoff spot for the winning team. However, more importantly to the region, Sunday will be the last Cascadia match played in 2017 and will therefore decide whether the Southsiders or the Timbers Army will take the Cup home. While the match will broadcast over the MLS app and US television, the contest remains the celebration of a region, with fans on both sides ready to bring the Cup back to their part of Cascadia.