PORTLAND – If Portland fans didn’t like Roger Levesque before – and they didn’t – they sure don’t like him now.
Levesque put Seattle Sounders FC ahead in the first minute of its U.S. Open Cup third-round match Wednesday against the Portland Timbers of the USL first division. And the Sounders never surrendered that lead on their way to a 2-1 victory before a standing-room-only crowd at PGE Park.
However, simply scoring wasn’t enough for Levesque, who headed the early goal home after taking a pass from Sanna Nyassi. Levesque, who became Portland enemy No. 1 during his time with the USL Sounders, also added a little insult to injury.
“I actually had a celebration planned with Nate Jaqua, running over to the corner: I was the tree and he cut me down, and I kind of fell over,” Lesveque said. “That was for the fans. We were just disappointed it was on this end of the field and not over (by the Timbers Army supporters group).”
The victory sends Seattle to an Open Cup quarterfinal match against the Kansas City Wizards on Tuesday at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. today.
However, Cup considerations seemed a secondary issue to the record crowd of 16,382, which represented the USL Timbers’ first PGE Park sellout.
Those fans came for the surprise resumption of a longtime soccer rivalry that began in the North American Soccer League in 1975 and continued though last season, which was Seattle’s last before joining Major League Soccer.
And Sounders players and coaches admitted that Portland’s singing, chanting, flag-waving, flare-throwing fans made this match special.
“I’ve played a lot of games on this pitch,” Levesque said. “I’ve had some good memories and I’ve also been on the other end of it. ... They’ve always had a really strong support system – the best in the USL, hands down. We didn’t expect anything less tonight. The atmosphere was absolutely amazing. Whether that Timbers Army is booing you or cheering for you, it’s great for soccer in the Northwest.”
After Levesque’s early goal, the Sounders got a little breathing room in the 27th minute, as Stephen King sent another in from the top of the box.
That gave the Sounders a 2-0 lead, and a well-earned one as they were dominating in most phases of play.
However, Portland crept back within striking distance in the 43rd minute, when Mandjou Keita beat the Seattle defense to a ball in the box and finished, cutting the Sounders’ lead to 2-1 at halftime.
Both teams continued pushing forward in the second half, but neither broke through again.
“Obviously we got off to a great start: We scored a great early goal,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “The second goal was well-taken, as well. We were around the goal at times. We let them back in it by giving up the goal late in the first half. ... But that’s what these games are. They aren’t always pretty. Sometimes they’re the kinds of games where you have to roll up your sleeves, and that’s what we did in the second half.”
The Seattle-Portland soccer rivalry started in 1975, when both sides were members of the North American Soccer League, continued through some lesser leagues, resumed most recently when both teams were members of the United Soccer Leagues first division.
Seattle led the NASL series, 13-7, and the USL series, 16-11-5. Wednesday’s result pushed Seattle ahead in Open Cup meetings, 6-5.
However, the series may go dark again until 2011, when Portland is scheduled to move up to MLS.
“This rivalry is going to be tremendous,” Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “When the stadium gets revamped a little bit more, they get stands around the whole field, they put a better surface down, there’s going to be some good football played here. And I think everyone’s extremely excited about 2011. I really see myself having to play at least one more year (after the current two-year contract) because I really want to be a part of this if my body’s willing.”
The Sounders return to league action July 11, when the league-leading Houston Dynamo visits Qwest Field.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808