Jonathan Ferrey // Getty Images
How weird is MLS’s weirdest rivalry? Behind the eyebrow-raising trend of the Portland-Seattle derby
Seattle Sounders’ Taylor Graham battles Portland Timbers’ Bright Dike during the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup in 2010
On August 26, 2022, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders will renew one of Major League Soccer’s fiercest rivalries. There’s no denying that these two Pacific Northwest neighbors have a deep dislike for each other, but there’s a twist to this rivalry: the visiting team has the upper hand, at least according to a recent trend.
Since 2011, the first year the Timbers and Sounders were both in MLS, home teams in the league have won about half of their games, a little more than double the away win rate, according to a Stacker analysis (draws make up the remaining quarter). The last 12 times Portland and Seattle have met in the regular season, however, the visiting team has won 10 times, lost once and tied once. That streak, which dates back to 2018, is 83% away wins and 8% home wins, far from the league average.
The combined 10-1-1 record on the road is made even more impressive when you consider that the Sounders and Timbers reside in two of the league’s most impregnable fortresses.
Seattle, which shares Lumen Field with the NFL’s Seahawks, has won 61 percent of its home games since 2011, the best of any active MLS club over that span. Portland, which plays at nearly a century-old Providence Park, is also above the league average with a 53 percent home win rate.
And yet, when these two rivals face off, the home field advantage seems to disappear.
So how unlikely is it that a pair of MLS teams manage to win just once at home against each other in a 12-game span? Stacker set out to discover the answer by analyzing regular season data from FBref.com. See what we found ahead.
You may also like: Second race of 15 athletes
Jared Beilby // Stacker
Over the last 12 meetings, the away team of the Portland-Seattle rivalry has a goal difference of +17
Bar graph of the last 12 games Portland-Seattle
While the first contests of this last period were close, the margin has varied greatly in the past year. The Sounders defeated the Timbers 6-2 at Providence Park in August 2021, the largest margin of victory in the rivalry’s MLS history.
Two weeks later, Portland picked up a 2-0 road win in Seattle. And in their first meeting this season, the Timbers won 3-0 on July 9, again while visiting their neighbors to the north. In total, the visiting team in the last 12 games Portland-Seattle has a goal differential of more than 17.
The lone home win came in 2020, marred by COVID-19, when Portland won 1-0 in the rain at a virtually empty Providence Park behind a goal from Yimmi Chara in the 13th minute. the empty stadium means home fans haven’t been in attendance for a regular-season win in this rivalry since May 2018.
It’s worth noting that in the two playoff meetings between Portland and Seattle, the home team fared slightly better. This pair of games took place in a two-game tie during the 2018 playoffs; the Timbers won the first leg while the Sounders claimed a return to Seattle, but were unable to advance as Portland eventually won 4–2 on penalties.
Jared Beilby // Stacker
The Portland-Seattle rivalry away goal difference is unique in MLS history
Table showing MLS matchups with the highest away goal difference over a 12-game period
When you compare the data to the rest of MLS, the true curiosity of this rivalry begins to stand out.
Stacker analyzed the 6,925 MLS regular season games that have occurred in history from 1996 to August 6, 2022. Of the 188 matchups that have been played at least 12 times, the Timbers-Sounders series is the only one where the visiting team has had. a period of 12 games with an away goal difference of over plus 1 goal per game. The 17-goal margin in the series translates to a plus-1.42 goal differential per game.
Two series come in plus-12 goals for the visiting team, or exactly plus-1 per game: Columbus Crew vs. New York MetroStars (now the Red Bulls) and CF Montreal vs. Orlando City. The Columbus-New York stretch from 1999-2003 notably posted an 11-1-0 road record, slightly better than the 10-1-1 record of the active Portland-Seattle series.
Also, Seattle is no stranger to bucking the trend of home field advantage. Between 2013 and 2017, the Sounders played a 12-game stretch with the third leg of the Cascadia rivalry, the Vancouver Whitecaps, where the visiting team enjoyed an 11-plus goal differential.
Jared Beilby // Stacker
Similar uneven stretches are just as rare in Europe’s big 5 leagues
Table showing the top 5 European fixtures with the highest away goal difference over a 12-match period
To provide global context for the current stretch of Portland-Seattle games, we’ve also looked at results dating back to the first year of MLS from the five major European leagues: England, France, Italy, Germany and Spain.
While differences in league structure, parity and quality mean it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison to MLS, European leagues offer a deeper snapshot with a wealth of data to to the analysis. Since 1996, there have been more than 46,000 games played in these five leagues combined, and there are 1,448 matches with at least one 12-game period. And when you expand the data set, the rivalry between the Sounders and the Timbers remains exceptional.
Only one European qualifying series between VfB Stuttgart and 1. FC Köln (Cologne) have seen a better away goal difference in 12 games with 20+ goals. When expanded beyond a 12-game stretch, Stuttgart-FC Köln’s streak at home in the German Bundesliga has been truly astounding. In October 2000, FC Köln beat Stuttgart 3-2 at home. The streak took 17 years and 20 games later for a home team to win again in Bundesliga play – Stuttgart won 2-1 in October 2017 to end the home win drought. During the 19 games between the home wins, the visiting team won 11 times with eight draws.
Another Bundesliga series, VfL Wolfsburg-Bayer 04 Leverkusen, is tied with Portland and Seattle with plus-17 goals. Interestingly, this second series is also currently active: Wolfsburg and Leverkusen are scheduled to play on October 20, 2022.
Despite these pair of Bundesliga runs, no matchup in Europe’s Big 5 leagues has seen the away teams win 10 or more games over a 12-match period. This makes MLS the only league of the six analyzed with this stretch. On top of that, the Timbers-Sounders contest is a rivalry, something none of the series of similar breadth can match.
Of course, there’s no telling if the Portland and Seattle trend continues. We’ll find out on August 26 if the Sounders can hold up their end of the bargain when they venture several hours down Interstate 5 to face the Timbers. Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming game, this rivalry has already etched one of the rarest stretches in modern soccer history into the tablets of MLS history.