Cascadia supporter groups say the front offices for the Seattle Sounders FC, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps FC are missing an enormous opportunity to engage in serious dialogue just prior to the kick off of the 2011 Major League Soccer season.
This is the first year that the Cascadia soccer clubs — Seattle, Portland and Vancouver — will re-ignite a 30-year rivalry. Hard-core supporter groups are amped, drooling for the day they stare eyeball-to-bloodshot eyeball at their rivals just a few meters away at the Qwest Field, PGE Park or BC Place.
We can all drink to that, and to supporting the rivalries and the passion that everyone has for their respective clubs. This can be an inflection point in the ongoing effort to helping elevate the interest and intensity of fan support for MLS soccer. The Cascadia rivalries can set the standard for the rest of the country, or it could spiral out of control.
That’s certainly a concern all groups share. And that’s why some of the supporters say lack of communication over the purpose of the Summit is hurting, not helping, anyone’s cause. The supporters say the Cascadia Summit was supposed to include a “serious” conversation with senior club officials over security, safety and supporter/fan education prior to the Seattle v Portland clash, supporters say.
Now, it appears the schedule has been revised. Sounders radio commentator Arlo White will field questions with representatives of Emerald City Supporters, Vancouver Southsiders, FC Gorilla and the Timber’s Army at Starfire Sports Complex. Then the head coaches will appear in a forum to discuss the rivalry and to answer questions.
None of this sits well with the supporter clubs.
“If they are not going to sit down and have a serious discussion with all three supporter groups, then that’s a huge missed opportunity for everyone,” said Garrett Dittfurth, president of the 107ist of the Timbers’ Army. “We feel that our front office is listening and working with us. But we’re not quite sure what’s happening to the north.”
Southsiders President John Knox said the initial plan was to include a closed-door meeting with supporter leadership and owners/managers of the clubs. “It would be like a town-hall situation,” Knox said. “I’m trying to stay positive but it’s frustrating. We’ve not had a tremendous amount of consultation leading up to this event. The planning process has not been smooth or comprehensible.”
Keith Hodo, president of Emerald City Supporters, says he agrees the format is confusing but that’s not necessarily all bad. “From the perspective of someone that has been around the rivalry for years the format is confusing,” Hodo said. “It seems like it’s geared at people who are brand new to football rivalries, which is both good and bad.”
From the hardcore ECS perspective, he said, this might not be that interesting. But from the person who is newer to this derby, then it might be something they enjoy. It’s hard to know, he said.
Sounders president and general manager Adrian Hanauer said he will be present at the forums. He said he was unsure if Vancouver and/or Portland ownership will be there.
Hanauer said he’s happy to answer questions, but the objective is to not re-hash old news and decisions that have already been made. “The objective, with input from ECS, is to allow the supporters to talk among themselves and discuss issues,” he said. “We will obviously be listening and taking notes.”
Hanauer said safety and security at the derby matches will continue to be a huge priority. The three clubs are planning to meet following the Q&A session to discuss these issues, in an operational meeting.
Hanauer made it clear that the Sounders ownership continues to be committed to open dialogue. He cited the Business Alliance council, the Advisory Board and the end-of-the-season business meeting as opportunities for fans and owners to meet, listen and share points of view. “Open forums are great…assuming they are productive,” Hanauer said. “Ownership is always willing to listen. The reality, however, is that there are going to be occasional decisions that supporters just don’t agree with or like.”
Even so, even if the meetings sometimes can be prickly, uncomfortable affairs, Hanauer says the Sounders have no plans to quash open forums with fans. “I would venture to guess that our ownership is more accessible and open to dialogue than any professional sports franchise in North America,” Hanauer said. “We plan to continue this.”
For the president of ECS, while acknowledging imperfections, he hopes the Summit helps to raise the awareness of this 30-year rivalry that really never went away. It is unique in the annals of American pro sports — particularly in the soccer community. “I am hoping that people can take away something they might not have known before,” Hodo said. “The Cascadia derbies are rich in history, and having just gotten back from Europe, they compare very favorably to what I experienced there.”