By JOSE M. ROMERO
The supporters groups from the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps have spoken, and Major League Soccer apparently listened.
The league approved a plan for hardcore fans of the three Cascadia MLS clubs to purchase up to 500 tickets for away matches against each other in 2011, the three teams announced Wednesday.
This is good news for three of the strongest and largest fan bases for soccer in North America. While some details need to be ironed out, the bottom line is that 500 tickets will be sold by each home team to the visiting team, and in turn the visiting club will distribute those tickets to their supporters groups.
There had previously been concern that only 150 tickets would be allotted for sale to visiting supporters groups for games involving the three clubs, who will face each other at home and away in 2011. That didn't sit well at all with the supporters, and they let their respective ownerships hear their dismay. They also sent a letter of protest to MLS commissioner Don Garber.
"The approved plan to allocate 500 tickets for visiting supporters will help grow a rivalry that is unique to this region," said Joe Roth, Sounders FC owner, in a statement from the club. "The three clubs, along with Major League Soccer, are committed to fostering local rivalries as well as providing visiting supporters an opportunity to support their clubs on the road."
Ironically, it was Roth who reportedly brought up the 150-ticket limit in the first place. That spurred leaders of the primary supporters groups for each of the three Cascadia clubs into unified action.
The Sounders have the largest stadium, Qwest Field, out of the three clubs, but the stadium routinely sells out no matter the opponent, at least for MLS matches.
There's a long history of the rivalry between the three clubs that goes back to the North American Soccer League days. The Sounders and Whitecaps joined that league in 1974 and the Timbers followed in 1975, and fans of all three teams traveled en masse to away matches in the region.
The tradition carried over into the USL days, though overall crowds were smaller in number in Seattle and Vancouver. In 2009 and 2010, U.S. Open Cup matches between the Sounders and Timbers at Portland's PGE Park were the hottest tickets in town, and busloads of Sounders fans traveled the three hours south on Interstate 5 for the matches.
"Away support, especially for derbies, is a critical part of soccer’s DNA," Merritt Paulson, owner and president of the Timbers, said in a statement from the team. "The Timbers – along with Seattle, Vancouver and Major League Soccer – are committed to cultivating these significant regional rivalries by embracing the positive dynamic that away supporters bring and encouraging visiting fan support. The clubs look forward to hosting visiting supporters in a professional manner."