The Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers rivalry is the real deal -- and it's real fun

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PORTLAND, Ore. -- If you had been walking near Providence Park on Friday afternoon and forgot about the big rivalry match on the schedule for Sunday, a line of tents was there to remind you.

Members of the Timbers Army, the Portland Timbers fan group, started lining up for general admission on Thursday for a Sunday afternoon match against the team's most hated rival, the Seattle Sounders (3 p.m. ET on FOX). Most fans had basic setups with reclining fold-up chairs, but at least one had a cot with full bedding and pillows while another had a grill set up.

Lyle Cushman of Vancouver, immediately north of Portland, was among those in line. He got there Friday afternoon and the line of tents already stretched from the ticket window to the corner of the block. He and a group of about 10 friends take turns reserving their spot in line for hours at a time.

Arriving early is a necessity to get their preferred seats because the line starts much earlier than usual when the Sounders are in town, he said.

"It's Seattle, our main nemesis. They always say how they're a much better soccer town than we are, and we're here to say, 'No, not really.' We got the star before they did," he said with a laugh. "They say, 'We won more games.' Well, we won the game that matters."

Such is the new dynamic of Timbers-Sounders banter now that the Timbers won the MLS Cup last year, a trophy the Sounders have never won despite winning more trophies over the years. It is represented by a gold star above the Timbers crest.

Sounders coach Sigi Schmid brushed off Portland's MLS Cup on Thursday: "They're excited about that. I think they still have some trophies to go to catch us."

Timbers coach Caleb Porter responded in kind on Friday afternoon: "They've won trophies -- we've won a couple trophies they haven't. Everybody can win a tournament but not everyone can win the big one."

A rift deeper than soccer

To understand the deep rift between the Sounders and the Timbers almost requires looking beyond soccer entirely. This isn't a rivalry between two teams -- it's a rivalry between two cities.

"It's kind of like a big brother-little brother dynamic. They think that they're bigger and better than us and it's annoying and frustrating," Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson told FOX Soccer with a laugh. "It definitely extends past football. Seattle has always played the big brother because it's the bigger city."

Seattle may be the larger and more metropolitan city, but Portlanders certainly aren't keen on existing in Seattle's shadow. Anything Seattle stakes claim on -- from arts and culture to coffee and food, and especially soccer -- Portlanders believe the "Rose City" does just as well, if not better.

But it's the sort of rivalry that only flourishes with close comfort. A three-hour drive or a four-hour train ride gets Pacific Northwesters from one city to the other. They go to each other's soccer games, drink each other's coffee and experience each other's culture -- and they can do it often enough to confidently say, "Meh, ours is better."

That dynamic may always be there, but where it comes out the most is at Timbers and Sounders games.

"There's really a rivalry between the cities of Seattle and Portland," Schmid told FOX Soccer by phone. "It's predated all of us, but the soccer side of it has been the most significant part that's been exposed to the world and it's been exposed since the old North American Soccer League days."

The Sounders and the Timbers first clashed back in 1975 and would continue to meet again and again over the years in the NASL, USL and now in MLS. The USL days of the early 2000s are when the rivalry went from a quaint friendly one to the intense, bitter affair it is now.

Asked for his favorite memory of the rivalry, Schmid harkens back to before the Timbers joined MLS as an expansion team. Roger Levesque scored the Sounders' fastest goal in club history in Portland and his celebration included being "chopped down" by one of his teammates, a gesture meant to mock the Timbers. That moment still stings for Timbers fans, and Seattle supporters years later used it as the premise for a tifo banner meant to taunt their rival.

The Timbers Army will have a large painted tifo of their own to debut on Sunday and, if it's anything like the past tifos that make up this rivalry, it will include a clever but blatant dig at the Sounders. They've already depicted the Timbers mascot chopping down the Space Needle with a chainsaw in 2009 and then depicted Seattle burning in 2014, so nothing is off limits.

It's all part of the fanfare that adds to the special feeling of a Timbers-Sounders matchup.

"It just feels better when you beat Seattle, for sure, and it feels worse when you lose to Seattle," Porter said on Friday. "It adds more spice to the game. For us, we win this game and it puts us in really good position. They certainly need this win more than ever, so that's going to add to the lore and the stories."

Indeed, the Sounders have been experiencing a rough patch that is unusual for a franchise with as much consistent success as they've had over the years. But there's no question Sunday's rivalry matchup would be the perfect time for them to start firing on all cylinders. The Timbers haven't quite found the form of champions, either, which sets up Sunday as a nice fork in the road for both clubs.

Then again, it's always a good time to beat your most-hated rival.

"It's not about marketing," Sounders forward Herculez Gomez said. "It's not about fabrication. It's about actual games. There's actual bad blood between these teams."