Canadian Sports Rivalries – Vancouver Vs Cascadia

December 27, Rogers Arena, Vancouver British Columbia. Back in October, the Seattle Kraken opened their new stadium and played their first-ever game at home to the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks won the game 4-2 and now are looking forward to hosting the first major league hockey match between Vancouver and Seattle in Vancouver in nearly 100 years. While the Kraken and Canucks are only just at the beginning of their rivalry, the history of the sporting rivalry between Vancouver, Seattle and their neighbour Portland is firmly established in the region’s culture.

In the region of North America known as Cascadia, Vancouver, Seattle and Portland have a rich history against each other in hockey, soccer and basketball. This is the first segment in the Canadian sports rivalries series to feature American teams/cities, but I can assure you, Vancouver’s rivalry with their Cascadian neighbours certainly holds its weight in Canadian sports.

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The Province and States of British Columbia, Washington and Oregon can all trace their modern history back to a shared origin. In North America, European settlement started in the East, it wouldn’t be until the 1800’s that the Pacific North West would see a British/American influx. Prior to the middle of the century, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon all fell under the one territory called Columbia, named after a prominent river in the area. Its capital was Vancouver, situated in modern-day Washington. But the political unity wasn’t to last as the Americans and the British would dispute their borders and eventually come to an agreement to realign their border at the 49th parallel, separating the British-Canadian British Columbia with the American Oregon territory in 1846.

The Washington territory split from Oregon in1853 and after 1863, the modern borders of all three were established. After nearly 160 years since; Vancouver, British Columbia, Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington have all established themselves as major international cities. While they may no longer be part of the same entity, there is still a legacy and feeling today of unity amongst the three.

The term Cascadia refers to a bioregion that encompasses the Pacific North West and has also been adopted as a name to define a sense of shared identity within the region. In Cascadia, the people are passionate about their sports teams, and when they face off against each other, all that matters is who can win for their city on the day.

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The birth of sports rivalry in the region can be traced back to the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA). The Vancouver Millionaires were established first in 1911, initially, their opponents were BC-based teams from New Westminster and Victoria but that changed in 1914. That was the year the Portland Rosebuds were added to the league when New Westminster relocated down south of the border. Their first ever game was in December 1914 against Vancouver, the Millionaires won the game 6-3 and they would go on to be PCHA champions with the Rosebuds settling for second place. Vancouver would then go on to face the Ottawa Senators in the 1915 Stanley Cup and a 3-0 series sweep meant that Vancouver won the Stanley Cup, the first major trophy won by a team from the Pacific North West.

Vancouver Millionaires

The following season, 1915-16 would see Vancouver and Portland joined by the Seattle Metropolitans meaning for the first time all three cities would compete in a sports league. It would be a season to remember for Portland, they were the 1915-16 PCHA champions and earned the right to be the first American team to compete for the Stanley Cup against the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens, taking the Habs to a deciding game 5 falling just short. Like Vancouver before them, Portland was unable to retain their PCHA crown in 1916-17. That honour was to fall to the Seattle Metropolitans who pipped Vancouver to first place by just two games.

Like Vancouver and Portland beforehand, the Metropolitans competed in the 1917 Stanley Cup against Montreal. Seattle would go one better than Portland, beating the Canadiens 3-1 in the series to become the first American side to win the Stanley Cup. With 2 Stanley Cup wins in three years, the PNW had established itself as a legitimate force in hockey.

The 1919 Seattle Metropolitans competed for the Stanley Cup during the Spanish flu pandemic. (David Eskenazi Collection)

The 1917-18 season would see the three teams compete against only themselves as the league was reduced to just the three of them. Seattle was in first place at the end of the regular season, but for the first time, a playoff system was used to determine an overall PCHA champion. Vancouver Millionaires won the two-game playoff series three goals to two, claiming their second PCHA title.

The 1917/18 season brought about an unfortunate end of the three-way hockey rivalry, just two years after a Stanley Cup appearance, the Portland Rosebuds suspended operations and folded shortly after, leaving it between Seattle and Vancouver to battle it out for PNW supremacy alone. The Victoria Aristocrats, previous PCHA members returned to the league in the Rosebuds’ absence, but the Millionaires and Metropolitans would go onto dominate over the next six years.

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From 1918 to 1924, Vancouver and Seattle played each other in the league deciding playoff series six times in seven seasons. The results were four wins for the Millionaires and two for the Metropolitans, but further Stanley Cup glory eluded either Cascadian rival, with the closest to another cup being 1919, the series between Seattle and Montreal was tied at two wins apiece but the Stanley Cup was not awarded due to the influenza pandemic causing havoc with the players’ health, tragically taking the life of Canadiens player Joe Hall.

At the conclusion of the 1923-24 season, Seattle was forced out of their arena, and had no option but to fold after failing to find a new home, leaving the Millionaires (now named the Vancouver Maroons) as the last team standing. The PCHA merged with the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL) in 1924 and when the Regina Capitals moved to Portland, the Rosebuds and the West coast rivalry with Vancouver was reborn. It was to be short-lived, however. The Maroons finished bottom of the six-team league in 1925-26, with the Rosebuds not faring much better finishing fourth, two wins better off than Vancouver.

Portland Rosebuds

The league would fold that season, and it would take Vancouver and Portland with it. While it wasn’t to last, the PCHA era is still looked upon fondly and is a source of pride for all three cities. Portland was the first American team in the Stanley Cup Final, Seattle the first American team to win the Stanley Cup, their hockey successors the Seattle Kraken even raised a championship banner in their honour this season.

Vancouver was also Stanley Cup champions at this time and won the most PCHA championships as well. As recent as the 2010s, the Vancouver Canucks have worn throwback Millionaire jerseys on multiple occasions honouring their predecessors. It would be a while before Vancouver would face against a Cascadian rival in the sports world, many could only hope it would emulate the PCHA rivalry that came before it.

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It would be almost 30 years before hockey at any sort of significant level returned to the area with the formation of the new Western Hockey League in 1952. The WHL was a minor league and Vancouver was first to join as the Vancouver Canucks followed by the Seattle Bombers. It wouldn’t be long for the two to play meaningful hockey against each other in the 1953 WHL playoffs which Vancouver edged 3-2.

While they could no longer compete for the Stanley Cup, there was still the WHL’s president cup to be won which the Canucks did in 1958, in 1959, the now renamed Seattle Totems reached the WHL Semi-final, their opponent, the Vancouver Canucks. Seattle would defeat Vancouver four games to one, their first playoff win over Vancouver in 39 years going back to the PCHA era and encompassing five playoff defeats in the time.

The Totems would go on to win their own President’s Cup that season. As the league entered the 1960’s, a new team was added to the league, the Portland Buckaroos, reviving the Cascadian sports trifecta for the first time since 1918. The Bucks wasted no time establishing themselves, in the 1961 playoff’s they defeated the previous season’s champions the Canucks 3-1, setting up a championship final against Seattle. In the WHL’s first-ever all-American finals, the Buckaroos defeated the Totems 4-2 to lift the now renamed Lester Patrick Cup.

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This marked the fourth consecutive league championship won by a Cascadian team, truly reminiscent of the 1910s. There would be more success in the PNW with further championship wins in the decade and more often than not, they would stand in each other’s way, the four WHL championship finals from 1967-1970 were all contested between the three PNW teams, Seattle and Vancouver both shared two champions each at this time with the Buckaroos left with three finalist appearances.

Things would change dramatically in 1970, the NHL was in the midst of expansion and Vancouver was awarded a major hockey franchise. The NHL team kept the Canucks name and left the WHL for good. Portland would win one more WHL championship in 1971 but the league would fold just three years later, taking Portland with it, and Seattle the year after, bringing an end to the WHL era. At its end, the Canucks had won four champions with the Totems and Buckaroos closely following with three apiece.

There were calls at this time for Seattle to also get an NHL team. In 1974, the Seattle Totems owner Vince Abbey was awarded an expansion team with 1976 being expected to be the first year of play. Abbey struggled to put together the funds for the six million dollar expansion fee and was not helped by Vancouver. The Canucks had shares in their now lower league neighbour’s and Abbey had to repurchase the shares the Canucks had in the Totems and ultimately, the funds could not be put together for an NHL team.

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Abbey would later sue the NHL and Canucks for anti-trust violations which he claimed prevented him and Seattle from getting an NHL team. The lawsuit was settled in 1986, but it wouldn’t be until 2018 that Seattle would finally be awarded an NHL franchise. In the meantime, there was a PNW rivalry void to be filled in major sports. One place that void would be filled wouldn’t be on the ice like before, but instead the hardwood court.

NBA Basketball wasn’t new to Cascadia, in 1967 the Seattle SuperSonics became the region’s first major league basketball franchise, and they were shortly followed by the Portland Trail Blazers. Both teams would be successful in the late 70’s sharing in championship glory. Portland won the first NBA championship in Cascadia, defeating Philadelphia 4-2 in the finals.

Maurice Lucas embraces Philadelphia players Julius Erving (left) and George McGinnis after the Blazers beat the 76ers in Game 6 of the 1977 NBA finals to win the championship series 4-2. Photo by Michael Lloyd/The Oregonian/1977LC- The Oregonian, Mike Lloyd /

Seattle would have their own championship in 1979 when they defeated Washington 4-1. It wouldn’t be until the 1990’s that both would again be at the NBA forefront, and they would soon be joined by a familiar neighbour. For the 1995-96 season, Portland began their campaign with a trip to Vancouver to face the inaugural season Vancouver Grizzlies. For the first time in 80 years, Cascadia was represented by all three cities in a major sports league. Back then, the Portland Rosebuds’ first game was against the Vancouver Millionaires, now it was time for the Grizzlies to begin with a game against the Blazers.

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Vancouver won their inaugural game against Portland 92-80, but it wouldn’t be until their next run-in with Portland they would win again, snapping a 19 game losing streak, indeed that very same season they would then go on a 23 losing streak, finishing 15-67. Of those 15, three were against their Cascadian rivals, but Vancouver was not at the level of their neighbours.

In 1990 and 92, Portland made it to the NBA finals, Seattle also made it that far in 1996 and the two combined for three conference championships and five division titles in the 1990s. For Vancouver however, the years following expansion were a disaster. The terms of their expansion prevented them from getting the number one draft pick until 1999, meaning that despite being in the draft lottery, they had no shot at consensuses number one picks like Allen Iverson or Tim Duncan, stars who could’ve made a difference for the Grizzlies fortunes.

As the 1998-99 season came to a close, the Grizzlies had a record of 56-240, and relocation was quickly being discussed. The lockout in 1998 and poor Canadian dollar value meant that the team was losing money and the franchise was eventually sold, opening the door to them finding a new home city. In 2001, after two more underwhelming playoff-less seasons, Vancouver was relocated to Memphis, becoming the Memphis Grizzlies. The region was again down to two basketball teams but unfortunately, it wasn’t to last.

Vancouver Grizzlies

In 2008, Seattle was controversially moved to Oklahoma, becoming the Oklahoma City Thunder, leaving the Portland Trail Blazers as the only professional basketball in Cascadia. There are hopes that perhaps one day Seattle will once again have a basketball team, especially now they have the allure of a renovated arena. But when the SuperSonics left, it left just one sport that featured a PNW rivalry, soccer.

In 1974, two expansion teams joined the North American Soccer League (NASL), the Seattle Sounders, and the Vancouver Whitecaps. They would soon be joined by Portland Timbers in 1975. Despite being a year younger, Portland had more initial success owing to the Timbers having the best record in the league and beating the Sounders on their way to the NASL championship game (AKA, The Soccer Bowl) before ultimately coming up just short.

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Seattle would equal this achievement in 1977 but the honour of the first Cascadian side to be North American soccer champion would be awarded in 1979. After back-to-back playoff defeats to Seattle in 1977 and Portland in 1978, Vancouver made it all the way to the 1979 Soccer Bowl, defeating the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-1 to become the Pacific North West’s first-ever soccer champion. Their reign wouldn’t last long, however, as Seattle knocked them out of the playoffs by a score of 5-2 over two games in 1980. In 1982 Seattle again made it to the Soccer Bowl and it would be the final NASL season to feature all three cities. The Timbers would fold in 1982, leaving just the Whitecaps and Sounders. But the league could not overcome its financial woes, Seattle would fold just a year later, followed by Vancouver in 1984 who folded alongside the NASL itself.

The next meaningful chapter comes in the form of the A-League in 1995, a new soccer league that served as a minor league against the Major League Soccer (MLS). Just like the predeceasing NASL, Vancouver and Seattle were founding members. Both teams got off to strong starts with the Vancouver 86ers and phoenix club Seattle Sounders meeting in the playoffs in the inaugural season. Seattle would win the playoff tie and go on to win the first-ever A-League title, and the city of Seattle’s first soccer championship, a feat they would repeat in 1996.

Vancouver however would exact some revenge defeating Seattle in the playoffs in 1997 but further success eluded both clubs. In 2001, both Seattle and Vancouver were once again joined by Portland, who once again dawned the name Timbers, the three-city rivalry was back. Vancouver then changed its name back to Whitecaps, all three teams were back to having their traditional soccer names.

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The 2002 season would once again see playoff action in Cascadia, first Vancouver edged Portland 2-0 on aggregate in the first round, before blowing out Seattle 8-2 to reach the conference Semis, bowing out at that stage. Seattle would get their revenge in 2003 against Vancouver, and it was clear to see that the Cascadia rivalry was very important to the supporters.

In 2004, Timbers, Sounders and Whitecaps supporters came together to sponsor a trophy called the Cascadia Cup, the trophy was to be awarded to the team with the best overall record in Cascadia rivalry games in the regular season. In the inaugural Cascadia Cup, Vancouver won the trophy but came unstuck against the Sounders who defeated both them and the Timbers in the same postseason.

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The following year the A-League was rebranded as the United Soccer League (USL) and it followed a familiar story, the Whitecaps won the Cascadia cup, Seattle defeats Portland in the playoffs and makes it further than Vancouver. But this time, Seattle would go all the way beating Richmond in the USL final. Twice Cascadia champions, twice come up short in the playoffs, Vancouver finally broke through to become USL champions in their own right in 2006, their first North American soccer championship in 27 years.

Cascadia was at this point a dominant force in the USL, all three regularly made the playoffs, including 2007 where Seattle not only won their second consecutive Cascadia cup but again defeated Portland in the playoffs before being crowned champions. But if the history of these three cities has taught us anything, nothing lasts forever.

The 2008 season would be the last USL season to feature all three teams, Vancouver achieved the Cascadia Cup and USL championship double, but it was Seattle who would leave to join the MLS, leaving Vancouver and Portland behind. The Whitecaps and Timbers agreed to compete in the Cascadia cup against each other in Seattle’s absence, and Portland came out on top in 2009 to win their first Cascadia Cup, a feat they would repeat in 2010. For the start of the 2011 season, both Vancouver and Portland were awarded MLS franchises, for the first time since the early ’80s, the Whitecaps, Sounders and Timbers would all compete in North America’s top tier of soccer.

Vancouver Whitecaps’ Shaun Pejic, right, is sent off by referee Dave Gantar during the first half of the USL First Division championship final against the Montreal Impact in Montreal, Saturday, October 17, 2009. (Graham Hughes/CP)

Vancouver and Portland struggled initially with life in MLS with both teams making the playoffs just once in three years. Meanwhile, in 2011, Seattle won the US Open Cup for the third consecutive season and got as far as the CONCACAF Champions League semi-final in 2012. But the Timbers and Whitecaps would grow to establish themselves in MLS, Portland won the Cascadia Cup in 2012 and were the best regular-season team in the West in 2013 even knocking the Sounders out of the playoffs that season. Vancouver won back-to-back Cascadia Cups in 2013 and 2014, and they finished second in the West in 2015 ahead of the third-place Timbers and fourth place Sounders, setting up a playoff tie against Portland.

In the first Vancouver MLS playoff match against a PNW rival, the first leg at Portlands providence park finished 0-0 setting up a winner takes all tie at BC Place. Thanks to goals from Fanendo Adi and Diego Chará, Portland sent the sold-out Vancouver crowd home disappointed with a 2-0 away win. Portland rode the momentum of their playoff win over the Whitecaps to make it all the way to the MLS Cup final, their 2-1 win over Columbus in the final secured Portland’s first-ever MLS Cup championship, and the first major soccer championship won by a Cascadian side since 1979.

Portland Timbers celebrate their 2015 MLS Cup championship

Vancouver won their third Cascadia cup in four seasons in 2016 but that year would belong to Seattle. Despite being the seventh seed in the playoffs, the Sounders made it all the way to the MLS cup final, they faced Toronto FC in the final and after no goals in normal or extra time, Seattle would go on to win the game on penalties, sealing Seattle’s first MLS Cup, and leaving Vancouver as the odd man out for MLS Cups won. Unfortunately, Vancouver hasn’t been able to replicate Seattle and Portland’s success yet.

From 2016-2020 they only made the playoffs once and failed to win any more Cascadia Cups. In contrast, Portland and Seattle would again meet in the playoffs in 2018 with Portland coming out on top again on their way to another MLS Cup final appearance, coming up short in the big game against Atlanta. Seattle would get an act of perfect revenge though with a Cascadia Cup win in 2019, and another MLS Cup championship in the same year to become the first and only Cascadian team so far to do the double.

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The 2020 season was an unusual one because of, well, you know. Vancouver was forced to play their home games in the States and the Cascadia Cup was cancelled for the season. It would return however this season in a season that has reasons to be cheerful for all the Cascadian teams. In 2021, Vancouver qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2017 thanks to getting a 1-1 draw with Seattle in the final game of the season. That result also confirmed that Seattle would be 2021 Cascadia Cup winners, their seventh title, overtaking Vancouver’s haul of six and three ahead of Portlands four. Portland did have the chance to win another MLS Cup this month against New York City, but came heartbreakingly just short, losing the final on penalties.

So as the Canucks welcome the Kraken to Rodgers Arena, there’s a lot more history between these two than it looks on the surface. Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland have a rich, successful history and tradition of sports and rivalry against each other. Whether it’s in hockey, basketball or soccer, major and or minor league, it’s clear to see that Vancouver and Cascadia is a region that definitely holds in own in Canada as a storied sports rivalry. This game between the Canucks and Kraken may not have much in the way of playoff implications, but here’s to watching hopefully a great game between two rivals, and watching where this new chapter in the rivalry will go.

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