With ties to both cities, ESPN’s Keller previews MLS Portland-Seattle showdown

ESPN soccer analyst Kasey Keller (Photo courtesy of Kasey Keller’s Instagram)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Above, watch highlights of Kasey Keller’s visit to Portland as a Seattle Sounders goalie in July 2011. Seattle won the MLS rivalry match, 3-2.

The Cascadia Cup rivalry between Major League Soccer’s Pacific Northwest neighbors – the Portland Timbers and the Seattle Sounders – is one of the most intense matchups in U.S. sports.

The two teams first played one another in 1975 in the North American Soccer League (NASL). Ninety-seven matches later, the Timbers and Sounders have faced each other in four different leagues over the past 42 years: NASL, WSL, USL and MLS.

Sunday at 10 p.m. ET (7 p.m. PT), ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes+ will present the 98th competitive match between the Timbers and the Sounders, concluding Major League Soccer’s Heineken Rivalry Week which features matchups of key rivalries across the league.

ESPN analyst  Kasey Keller is all too familiar with this rivalry. The Olympia, Wash., native played in college at the University of Portland and was the Sounders’ goalkeeper for the franchise’s first three MLS seasons (2009-11). Before joining ESPN’s studio crew at Portland’s Providence Park on Sunday, he discussed the Timbers and Sounders with Front Row.

What do you remember most from the two Seattle-Portland matches you played?
What stands out is what it means to the fans. It is being able to beat your biggest rival, seeing the emotion of your fans delighted in having bragging rights. Watching them leave the stadium a bit more excited after a win against your rival.

As a player, how did you approach a rivalry match like Timbers versus Sounders?
The fans are a little bit more into the game. It means that much more to ownership. With fans and owners having that kind of focus, it just makes you want to be far more focused. You don’t want to be the guy that makes a mistake in that game. They are always remembered a little bit more. They are always talked about a little bit more. You have a bit more concentration for a rivalry game because you know there is more pressure.

What is it about these two fan bases that make them so passionate about soccer?
Neither fan base has ever forgotten the history of the club. Both have done a fantastic job of remembering the history from the NASL (North American Soccer League) to different incarnations of different soccer leagues at different times – the NASL, USL (United Soccer League), MLS. The hard core groups have kept the motivation going on and that has brought more people into it. Both teams are well supported. It only adds to the experience.

How does the Portland-Seattle rivalry compare to others you’ve witnessed?
The nicest part of this rivalry is, yes, it is intense and the fans are passionate. But, I’ve yet to see it spill over into any kind of violence or into any kind of situation where you do not feel safe. There might be some words exchanged, but that just adds to the fun. It has passion but not to the point it becomes violent. Millwall-West Ham or Arsenal-Tottenham, not so much.
Editor’s Note: Keller’s exceptional career as an international goalkeeper includes manning the posts for Millwall FC and Tottenham Hotspur – both London clubs

SC anchor Toni Collins and ESPN FC host Dan Thomas play 'Human Foosball'

Ahead of Sunday night’s Cascadia Cup rivalry game on ESPN2, SportsCenter anchor Antionetta “Toni” Collins donned the Seattle Sounders uniform against ESPN FC’s Dan Thomas, who wore the Portland Timbers colors, for a competitive game of Human Foosball. Their Human Foosball match, which ended in a 4-4 tie, was featured as part of a short segment on SportsCenter.

– Mac Nwulu

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