From 3nil, By Association is a narrative podcast about football and the connection we all share with the beautiful game. Find out more about the project by visiting their website here, or following By Association on Instagram and Twitter. Produced by James Parkinson.
In 1975 the NASL (North American Soccer League) was in the process of expanding, following recent success with new teams on the West Coast. A businessman named Don Paul was keen to establish a club in Portland, Oregon having seen the success of Seattle Sounders who were introduced the year before.
Paul formed a corporation called Oregon Soccer Inc with the aim of attracting local investors. At the time it wasn’t uncommon for new franchises to fall apart early into their existence, but having multiple shareholders was a way to ease the financial burden on the club and build stronger foundations.
After recruiting about 20-30 local businessmen, including car dealers, insurance brokers and lawyers, Oregon Soccer Inc had enough funding to meet the NASL’s minimum threshold. The league itself was also convinced that a Portland team could work. With only one professional basketball team in the city, there was a space during the summer months where soccer could take the spotlight.
With just four months between the establishment of the franchise and the start of the season, the ownership group still had a lot of work ahead of them, including deciding on a name for the club. A contest was run in the local newspaper asking for suggestions and the number one name that was voted on by the public was ‘The Pioneers’. But a local college team had already claimed the nickname.
That led the organisation to the second most popular choice, ‘The Timbers’, coined by Dennis O’Meara, a young public relations director who had been hired by the team. He had submitted a bunch of votes in the contest, filling out ballots in the names of all of his family members. With the timber and logging industry playing a significant role in Oregon’s history, the name made sense. The owners chose the colours of Green and Gold, and the Portland Timbers were born.
Once the club’s identity was decided, work began to build a squad. The Timbers hired Welshman and former Aston Villa manager, Vic Crowe as the Head Coach who brought several young players with him from England to the United States. The team was pieced together in just a few weeks with most of the players arriving days before the first match. Their first opponent? Seattle Sounders.
The Timbers lost that first game in the pouring rain, in front of 6,000 fans. But Crowe was the sort of manager who was very strict and drilled his players, pushing them for results. His strategy worked. Following two losses to start the season, the Timbers turned things around and began to build momentum, including defeating Pele’s Cosmos 2-1, in New York and a seven-game winning streak. The people of Portland responded and attendances grew progressively with each home game.
The Timbers form saw them make a run for the playoffs which included facing Seattle three times in sixteen days. That third meeting, and fourth overall for the season, came in the Quarter Final. Portland won the game 2-1 with a dramatic finish in extra time in front of 30,000 fans at Civic Stadium.
They went on to defeat St. Louis 1-0 in the Semi Final five days later, only to lose 2-0 to Tampa Bay Rowdies in the 1975 Soccer Bowl. Despite the disappointment of the Final, the Timbers had earned something far more valuable – the respect and deep affection of the Portland community.