By Nate Jensen
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The noise sounds like a warband preparing for battle against an ancient enemy. All eyes are directed onto a contested field. 22 players chase around a sphere, sometimes tripping each other just to get a toe on the ball.
The crowd continues chanting and urging their side on. Suddenly, a player gets a little bit of space and puts his boot through the ball like he’s trying to smash it to bits. For a moment in time, the crowd grows deathly silent as they all breathe in. And for that moment it feels like time has stopped as they all watch in anticipation of a legend being born.
The ball swerves past the keeper and hits the back of the net. That’s when the crowd erupts. A gigantic wave of euphoria sweeps across the crowd as they realize the player has scored a goal for their city. Their Club. Their soccer team.
It was in this environment that I first encountered the Doug and Cascadia. It was a few short years ago that I’d hardly heard of the Sounders, let alone the Timbers or the Whitecaps. I’d heard mumblings. A comment here, a “Did you know Seattle has a professional soccer team?” there. Marketing doesn’t reach out to where I live in central Washington when a sports team is on a very limited budget.
And that’s where all 3 clubs were only a few short years ago.
Vancouver, Seattle and Portland were all in the United Soccer League, a minor professional league that many in America have still not heard even the slightest about. Yet this was where the Cascadia Cup was born.
In 2004, the supporters of all 3 teams got together and created a competition whereby the winner would hoist a trophy representing the best in the region. They named it after the region. They named it after Cascadia.
The three teams had played against each other before, in a bygone era when soccer was having its first major bit of success in America. They played in front of some of the country’s largest crowds at the time, and the regional proximity made for great rivalry.
But this era passed. The 70s gave way to the 80s. The 80s weren’t as kind to soccer in America, and the legends from that time faded into memory.
The revived rivalry in the United Soccer League brought a new interest from a new league with a new goal. Major League Soccer came and announced that Seattle would be joining as an expansion franchise. I was thrilled.
Very quickly, the Seattle Sounders became an obsession of mine. It wasn’t that I did not care about them before. They just seemed so distant. With MLS bringing them in it was like a new neighbor moving in across the street. I wanted to know everything about them, and soon the internet became my equivalent of peeking through the blinds to see why the neighbors were throwing out that perfectly good sofa.
In their first season in MLS, the Sounders left Vancouver and Portland behind, but they did not leave behind the rivalry. It was impossible for me to avoid. I found references to Cascadia everywhere. Cascadia Cup this, Cascadia Cup that.
When I found out that Vancouver and Portland were going to continue the Cascadia Cup without Seattle, I got angry. I didn’t know why. It seemed important. It seemed like something was missing.
I couldn’t escape that feeling. So I researched. “What is Cascadia?” I asked myself, and I asked search engines. It wasn’t until I saw the Timbers’ giant flag of The Doug that I realized that such a thing was in existence. That spurred a flurry of new searches.
At first, I dismissed the idea. I assumed it was a novelty like Catalonia, but less serious. Gradually my internet probes found more information.
Finally! The Cascadia Cup would be renewed! I didn’t really know why I was excited; I hadn’t been on this ride before. I’d heard good things, but I’d never experienced it for myself.
I read articles that filled me with resentment as they compared the renewed rivalry to European teams.
“This isn’t Europe, this is Cascadia!” I’d say to myself. It was the first time I’d begun to refer to the Pacific Northwest as a distinctly separate culture. It was the first time I searched to find things that set us apart. “Northwest Cuisine”, “Dialects of the Northwest”, “Culture in the Northwest”. All these things became search engine topics.
I began identifying myself as Cascadian. I had discovered I was Cascadian.
When, in their first MLS home match, Portland’s Timber Army sang the Star Spangled Banner and waved the Doug right alongside the Stars and Stripes, I heard a person call it disrespectful. I defended the Timbers fans. I felt affronted. I felt like someone had picked a fight with a brother or a cousin.
The Cascadia cup has started for this season. When I saw the Doug display that Vancouver put up I felt excited. There are more eyes to see. More people like me discovering a new realm of possibility through soccer.
With each match new eyes will see the Doug. More people will wonder “what does that flag mean?” More people will discover that they too, are Cascadian.