TUKWILA, Wash. – There will be plenty of the intensity that comes naturally when regional rivals meet.
It's just not the "big, nasty" game for either Seattle or Vancouver.
The second stage of Major League Soccer's Cascadia triad will take center stage on Saturday night when the Seattle Sounders host the Vancouver Whitecaps.
But the vitriol and venom that accompanied the first Cascadia matchup a month ago, when Seattle hosted Portland to kick off the regional rivalry that is one of the MLS' biggest focuses for the 2011 season, won't reach the same level with the Whitecaps coming to town.
There's respect and a heightened focus, just without the animosity.
"I think for Vancouver it's probably the same. Toronto is their big nasty game," Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. "In Spain, Real Madrid-Barcelona was far nastier than Real Madrid-Atletico Madrid, but it's still there. It's just not quite the same as the big one."
That's not a slight on the history between the Whitecaps and Sounders, which dates back to the NASL days of the 1970s and featured plenty of colorful figures along the way.
But the bigger concern for Seattle is not missing on a chance to collect three points against the worst team in the Western Conference.
"There are three teams in this area of the country. We want to be the best team in this area of the country. In order to be that we want to win this game," Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. "This is our second home game, we want to win that. We know we have to win one away as well to be the best team. But more important for us is just the season series, that we have a chance to win the season series, to get three more points, to put ourselves every day a step closer to the playoffs."
When Seattle and Portland met in early May, the game was given national buildup and the charged atmosphere didn't disappoint even though the game was played in a steady, heavy rain. The Sounders' main supporters group, the Emerald City Supporters, unveiled a giant pregame tifo that spanned one entire end of Qwest Field, capped with a giant hand crushing the Portland Timbers logo.
Could it be that Canadians are just tougher to despise?
"It does appear that there is not necessarily a dislike, but there is a lot of emotion," Whitecaps President Bob Lenarduzzi said in a conference call this week. Lenarduzzi was a player for the Whitecaps in the '70s. "I think the same applies to us. It doesn't feel like we've got that same level of animosity that there does appear to be between Portland and Seattle."
While Seattle is third in the Western Conference, the Whitecaps have struggled with just one victory — in its MLS debut — and already changed coaches. In some ways, the Whitecaps' struggles have come at a good time, while the Canucks are taking most of the headlines in the Lower Mainland during their run to the Stanley Cup finals, relegating the Whitecaps to the back pages of the sports section.
"This is a hockey town. We played a Nutrilite (Canadian Championship) game, our version of your U.S. Open Cup the same night the Canucks had a playoff game. We had 16,000 people at Empire Stadium, which we were shocked by. We were delighted to have that many come out and cheer us on," Lenarduzzi said. "We definitely are not getting the awareness and visibility that we were prior to (the NHL) playoffs."
The next phase of the Cascadia rivalry takes place next month in Portland when the Timbers host the Sounders. Vancouver and Portland won't meet for the first time until Aug. 20 in Portland, with the return game between the Timbers and Whitecaps set to be the debut of the renovated BC Place Stadium in Vancouver in early October.
Seattle will travel to Vancouver in late September.
"There is still just as much history with Seattle and Vancouver as Portland," Seattle's Roger Levesque said. "... The fact that both teams have been so successful in the last 10 years in whatever league it has been I think drives that rivalry and a little bit of the national pride as well."