Portland Soccer: An Expanded History
Soccer, or association football, comes to Portland via English sailors docking along the waterfront.
A small group of enthusiasts form the Portland Association Football Club, the
first soccer league in Portland. Still, there are no regular teams.
The PAFC makes its season debut when the English ships Galgate, Elaine and Visigoth drop anchor in the Willamette providing local players some much-needed opponents. The Portlanders, though thoroughly out of practice, rout the English and their wobbly sea legs, 7–1.
Portland claims another resounding soccer victory when the PAFC beats a team of English sailors from the steamers Vermont, Strathord and Gymeric, 5–1.
200 spectators gather at the Cricket Club grounds, the city’s makeshift soccer pitch, in 35-degree weather to watch English and Scottish sailors play a fast-paced, if terrible, match. Nevertheless, onlookers describe the city’s enthusiasm as the beginning of a “soccer renaissance.”
Touching off a fierce rivalry between the two cities, the PAFC team travels to Seattle—accompanied by a band of spirited “rooters”—to play on Thanksgiving Day in front of a large crowd. Portland loses 3–2.
Riding the recent success of soccer in the city, the Oregonian for once predicts the future—about a century too early—touting “visions of great amphitheaters which will hold tens of thousands of cheering soccer rooters.” The paper even addressed the skeptics: “The soccer men are dreaming dreams, and who shall say they will not prove true?”
The newly formed Portland Football Association (replacing the PAFC) prepares for its most ambitious season yet, organizing into standing teams. The league will play a total of 45 games, culminating in an Oregon championship game. The six initial teams are Multnomah, the Columbias, the Cricketers, the Caledonians, the Crescents, and the O. R. & N. Though no longer dependent on British sailors for opponents, many of the players are English and Scottish immigrants.
Portland is taught a lesson by the Brits. An All-England team trounces the All-America team, 1–0. “In the words of the poet, the American eagle tackled the English lion yesterday afternoon, but came off second best… Of course, the better team won, but American absenteeism is chiefly responsible for the defeat.”
Red and white Multnomah wins the Oregon Championship 4–0, shutting out Queen’s Parks, who “were caught napping.” Reporters conclude that the losing team “spoiled the effects of their hard training by smoking tobacco” before and during the match.
The Oregon Soccer Football Association comes into being (replacing the PFA) and adopts four teams initially: the Mount Scott team, the Cricketers Second, Lents Independents, and Portland Heights.
The Timbers soccer team appears for the first time—in an appropriate early-twentieth-century industrialist mode—as the Timber Barons from Longview, the only out-of-town team in the league. They win the Oregon Championship this year.
Columbia Park in North Portland draws the biggest crowd for a soccer game to date. A mob of 5,000 fans congregates to watch the Thistles battle the Timber Barons for a 1–1 tie.
Two troubled leagues merge to form the North American Soccer League (NASL), the first major professional soccer league in the country, which would eventually peak at 24 teams.
Portland bids to receive a franchise in the NASL. The effort is spearheaded by Oregon Soccer Inc, which envisions pro soccer coming to the Rose City in time for the season start in April 1975.
The burgeoning North American Soccer League (NASL) offers Portland the 20th franchise for the 1975 season, bringing pro soccer to Portland for the first time.
Team owners sponsor a citywide vote to name the new team. More than 3,000 people cast ballots. The top entry, “The Pioneers,” hits a snag—Lewis & Clark College has already claimed it. The nod goes to the second-place choice, “The Timbers,” recipient of just 44 votes. Phew! The Rainbows and RainDrops were close behind.
In its first season, Portland charges to the NASL playoffs, packing then–Civic Stadium with up to 33,503 fans. One player says: “When you hear a roar from a crowd like we had at Civic Stadium, your body breaks out in goose bumps.” The Timbers lose the championship game; nevertheless, the press dubs Portland “Soccer City USA.”
The Timbers nearly go bankrupt—but Louisiana-Pacific, one of the largest wood-products companies in the US, saves the day, buying the team for about $750,000.
Seven years after Portland became “Soccer City USA,” the franchise ends just as it began, losing to the Seattle Sounders, 1–0. The NASL itself folds two years later.
The Timbers are resurrected in the Western Soccer Alliance (WSA), a short-lived professional league, ushering in the era known as Timbers II. Before the WSA’s gloomy demise in 1990, the Timbers draw more fans than any other team in the league.
The Timbers once again come to life in the United Soccer Leagues. Fans are few at first, but their numbers swell as the Timbers Army is born.
A new era begins when MLS awards Portland an expansion franchise. Owner Merritt Paulson ponies up the $40 million expansion fee.
Following a $31 million PGE Park renovation, the Timbers enter the MLS, playing their first game at the Colorado Rapids. On April 14, the team christens the new/old stadium against the Chicago Fire.