Last weekend saw the Seattle Sounders take a point from the Portland Timbers in the first Cascadia Cup match of 2014 - and what a thriller it was, with eight goals and a late Seattle comeback spearheaded by Clint Dempsey's hat trick.
The Cascadia Cup counts the head-to-head Major League Soccer results of the three teams in the Pacific Northwest and also constituting their own private tournament. It began in 2004 when all three were members of the United Soccer Leagues and, although there was a two-year period when Seattle joined MLS and Portland and the Vancouver Whitecaps had yet to make the jump and competed among themselves, it's now contested by clubs in the top flight.
This year, there will be nine games, just the third time in the 10-year run of the competition it's had a nine-game schedule: in 2008, when all three teams were in the then-second division USL, and the two most recent seasons in MLS.
We can learn from this little bit of historical data that while nine points is the lowest total any winner has yet had, a team will probably need to hit double digits to hoist the trophy (the theoretical minimum needed to absolutely ensure the trophy is 14, since mathematically, two teams could end up on 13 each with the third on zero, but this is unlikely).
There's an old rule of thumb for getting out of CONCACAF's Hexagonal series for national teams involved in World Cup qualifying; that winning at home and drawing away will ensure progress and meet fan expectations. That's still pretty much true, but with the unbalanced MLS schedule, Portland has four home games this year, Vancouver has three, and Seattle has just two. Perfectly living up to the "win home/draw away" axiom would give the disadvantaged Sounders the requisite 10 points, but it doesn't leave much room for error.
The Sounders managed to get that first away draw on Saturday, but they've got a while to go to break even. If the home team won in the remaining eight Cascadia games, Portland would end up with 10 points, Vancouver would have nine, and Seattle would be left with seven.
(Seattle leads by virtue of a better disciplinary record in Cascadia Cup matches)
As it stands, Seattle is at a disadvantage in the Cascadia Cup. The Sounders will not only have to be perfect at home, they'll have to actively take points away against their fiercest rivals, while Portland and Vancouver can stay in contention just by winning in familiar surroundings. But as Seattle showed on Saturday, it's capable of those results, and the 2014 Cascadia Cup is very much up for grabs at this stage of the season.
Portland - Two magnificent goals from defensive midfielder Diego Chara have to be encouraging, and to see Max Urruti get on the scoresheet is a good sign of progress. But as Caleb Porter noted after the game, you should never, ever let a two-goal lead at home tun into two points dropped. Just when it seemed like maybe the Timbers had the offense figured out, the defense fell apart.
Coming up: Just snother game that looks winnable on paper but could prove potentially tricky. Chivas USA is not a good team, or a deep team, but Mauro Rosales and Erick Torres are enough to give any MLS side pause for consideration. 7:30 p.m. PT, MLS LIVE
Seattle - It's about time Clint Dempsey showed his best, and luckily for him, it came before Thursday's revelation that the USA captain is the highest-paid player in MLS. He'll have to find a few more of those goals to justify his almost-$7 million salary.
Coming up: Only the best side in MLS, as 4-0-1 FC Dallas and the league's most potent attack host the Sounders in Texas.
Vancouver - The Whitecaps fell to their first loss of the season, but don't be fooled by their decent record, Vancouver has dropped winnable points. The Rapids result was marred by a red card to Matias Laba, but that's an excuse for one match. Vancouver failed to take points against the worst offense in MLS (New England) and the worst defense (Chivas USA - with an early red card). Its most impressive result - the 4-1 opening weekend win against New York - looks less emphatic after the Red Bulls' 0-1-4 start.
Coming up: The first of two straight games against the LA Galaxy, this one is away to the SoCal side. 7:30 p.m. PT, MLS LIVE/TSN
Follow KEITH HICKEY on