Timbers Long Road To Almost Ruin Ends In Success
By popular demand, the next club in the series of getting to know Major League Soccer is the Portland Timbers.
To explain football history in the States, is to write a book. The Portland Timbers have been around on and off since the seventies. They in fact, ran all the way to the ‘Soccer Bowl’ in their first year which was chronicled in a great book by Michael Orr called ‘1975 The Portland Timbers’.
In January 1975, the Timbers came into existence in the old North American Soccer League (NASL). The first incarnation of the club is what gave the region the name ‘Soccer City USA’ which caused a growth in amateur football in the area.
They raced to the 1975 Soccer Bowl against the Tampa Bay Rowdies (before Rodney Marsh came over) in their first year. That team for the Timbers was run by Welsh international Vic Crowe, a former Atlanta Chief (NASL club) and former Aston Villa player and manager.
Crowe was handed the job so close to the opening of the season he had to bring a lot of players over from England in their off season, and on a shoe string budget. That meant he had to find a lot of cheap players, and players on loan. Ironically, this team didn’t have anyone on the roster from America although, at the time, American sides were not known for having any players worthy of a top club. Some players brought over by Crowe were Willie Anderson, Peter Withe, and Mick Hoban. The latter still lives in the area to this day.
The NASL at the time was trying to capture the American audience, so each club had to do it’s part. Bugs Bunny was known to roam the sidelines at New York Cosmos games, the Rowdies called their fans the Fannies, and Ron Newman would go and teach anyone the sport. The Timbers took it to the extreme, a guy with a chainsaw cutting wood after goals for the Portland Timbers. This was Timber Jim (who has since retired), and was replaced by Timber Joey. Jim still shows up at games in the Timbers Army Section, and part of his ‘act’ included the following which Joey has continued to do some;
- Scaling a tall ‘snag’ off the pitch and standing on top high above the crowd, which was later discontinued due to safety concerns.
- Cutting a round from a log with a chainsaws every time the Timbers score. That is given to the players who score, and if there is a clean sheet kept, the goalkeeper gets one too.
- Hanging above the crowd on a zip-line with a drum.
- Singing ‘We are the Timbers’ to Section 107 (Timbers Army), eventually spelling out T-I-M-B-E-R-S (the R extended, imitating the roaring of a chainsaw)
- Pounding on a large drum, yelling out ‘Port-land (beat, beat) Tim-bers’
- Doing forward handsprings, which was quite a feat considering Jim was in his fifties at the time!
Outside of the run to the ‘Soccer Bowl’ in 1975, the only other time in their NASL years that they made it to the playoffs was in the 1978 when they lost in the conference finals against the New York Cosmos.
There were not many coaches in the NASL days of the Timbers. Vic Crowe left at the end of the 1976 season and was replaced by Brian Tiller, one of his former players. Tiller later made way for former Bristol Rovers player/manager Don Megson who took over from 1978-80 before Vic Crowe came back until the club shut down in 1982.
Like most of the NASL, there was a exodus of players and money in the early eighties. By 1985 the league was out of business although many of the players and clubs resurfaced in American football.
Portland returned in 1985 as a semi professional team in the Western Alliance Challenge Series, Western Soccer Alliance, Western Soccer League and American Professional Soccer League right up until 1990. They finally came back one last time to stay in the United Soccer Leagues (USL) as FC Portland in 2001. They changed to the Timbers later and granted an MLS expansion slot in 2011. They reached the MLS Cup final in 2015, beating Columbus Crew 2-1.
They retained their other Cascadia rivals from the NASL days in Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps, both had followed the same pathway from the NASL.
It is a rich region of talent, and there is a real competitiveness between the clubs.