TUKWILA, Wash. — He’s enemy No. 1 for the Timbers’ Army, which, considering there’s a guy holding a working chain saw just a few yards from the playing field, might make some slightly uncomfortable.
Seattle’s Roger Levesque is used to it by this point. He’s played the villain long enough to realize he’ll always be in the middle of the Portland-Seattle rivalry as long as he’s playing for the Sounders.
“I think it’s good for the game. The rivalry is great for the game of soccer, it’s great for the Pacific Northwest. I don’t know about being in the middle of it as being a great thing for me, but at the same time it’s kind of a fun thing,” Levesque said on Thursday. “It’s good to ignite maybe some anger in maybe the Portland fans, see what I can do to upset them as much as possible.”
Levesque is a native of Portland, Maine, the city he calls “the good Portland” on his Facebook page. He played high school soccer at Falmouth, leading the school to state titles in 1996 and ’97. He went on to star at Stanford where he was named the Pac-10 player of the year in 2001.
It’s a pretty safe assumption what the general reaction will be Sunday when the Sounders travel south to face the expansion Timbers in the third game of the Cascadia rivalry between Seattle, Portland and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
After all, this is the guy who got booed by Portland fans while playing for the USL Timbers as a temporary replacement during a 2008 exhibition match, with a sign in the stands reading “True Fans Hate Levesque.”
Add the anticipation of the first Sounders-Timbers MLS match in the Rose City and it could equal an atmosphere unlike anything Levesque or the Sounders have previously faced.
That’s what MLS wanted when it added Portland and Vancouver as expansion franchises and why both games between the Timbers and Sounders this season were given prime national TV broadcasts.
“We’re definitely going to feed off their fans. It’s going to be a great motivation for us,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “Obviously we’re going to have some fans there and they had to work hard to get those tickets and to get into that stadium and we want to reward them. But definitely going into that environment and knowing the kind of atmosphere it is, is something that will hel p spur us on into our effort as well.”
Levesque’s relationship with the Portland fans dates back to his time playing for the Sounders when they were a USL franchise before making the jump to MLS in 2009. Portland fans accused Levesque of taking a cheap shot during a 2004 match, begetting the disdain the Timbers have for the floppy-haired native of Portland, Maine.
But his crowning moment came in 2009 during the third round of the U.S. Open Cup when Levesque scored on a diving header just 48 seconds into the match in Portland and helped give the Sounders a 2-1 victory.
Not that a reminder was needed, but the Sounders’ main supporters group — the Emerald City Supporters — made sure that moment wasn’t forgotten the first time Seattle and Portland faced in MLS play in May.
The tifo display on that rainy May night highlighted those who spent part of their careers tormenting the Timbers with giant images that took up nearly an entire section in the stadium.
It started with current designated player Fredy Montero, followed by U.S. national team goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann and goalkeeper Preston Burpo, who spent nine years playing for the USL Sounders. They were followed by former NASL Sounders stars Jimmy Gabriel and Brian Schmetzer, now a Sounders assistant coach.
And the capper to the entire show was Levesque’s face with a smug smile and the words “48 Seconds” at the very front of the display.
Levesque’s return to Portland comes at a time when he’s playing some of the best soccer of his career. He scored twice in a 4-2 win over the Red Bulls in late June and has started the last two league matches for the Sounders. Seattle is unbeaten in its last seven league matches — four wins and three draws.
“I’m just excited to be a part of it and out there playing. I’ve enjoyed being a part of it and combining with the guys and just getting results,” Levesque said. “We’ve been on a good run here the last few weeks and hopefully we can keep it going.”