MLS Champion Portland Timbers Join Long-Standing Rose City Tradition
Friday, December 11, 2015
Every major and minor league sports team that has landed in Portland has won a title inside of their first decade of existence. All but one, that is. That’s a statistic many other cities around the country would have a hard time matching, even if they can garner more long-term interest and funding.
The Hillsboro Hops, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ level A-short season minor league affiliate, were founded in 2013 and have won league titles in 2014 and 2015, their first two years of existence.
The Portland Winterhawks, part of Canada’s Major Junior Hockey League, were originally founded in 1951 in Edmonton, and later moved to Portland in 1976. They won their first WHL title in 1983, followed by titles in 1998 and 2013.
The Portland Beavers, originally founded in 1903, won their first title in 1906, followed by four more between 1910-1914.
For decades, the Trail Blazers were the lone major professional sports team to call Portland home. Founded in 1970, they spent their first six seasons watching the playoffs from the couch, never finishing better than 12th in the league. America’s bi-centennial was very kind to the Trail Blazers, however, as they claimed Maurice Lucas in the ABA-NBA merger, hired Dr. Jack Ramsay as their new head coach, and behind a healthy Bill Walton, posted their first winning season, made their first playoff appearance, won their first playoff series, and also won their first championship, despite falling behind 0-2 in the NBA Finals.
The Portland Timbers are the lone exception to the rule of early champions here in Portland, and they only missed out by a hair. Originally founded in 1975 as the newest member of the NASL, the Timbers went to “Soccer Bowl ‘75” in their inaugural season, losing 2-0 to the Tampa Bay Rowdies. They would make the NASL playoffs three more times, only winning one postseason match, before the team folded in 1982.
The Timbers were re-launched in the new WSL in 1989 by new owner Art Dixon, and missed the playoffs in their two years under his watch before folding again following the 1990 season.
The Timbers floated in soccer purgatory until 2001, when they re-launched as a new team under the banner of the USL. They made the playoffs in seven out of ten seasons, and appeared in the semifinals twice, but never appeared in the championship game. The team folded following the 2010 season, as they were set to become the newest MLS expansion franchise.
The Timbers joined the MLS in 2011, and quickly became a model of inconsistency, as they were one of the toughest teams on their home field, while facing immense road troubles. Under new head coach Caleb Porter in 2013, they had the league’s best record and made the playoffs for the first time, advancing to the conference finals and losing to Real Salt Lake. They missed the playoffs again in 2014, and a 0-3-1 start to their 2015 campaign had many fans and experts nervous about their 2015 outlook.
Behind the play of leading goal scorer Fanendo Adi and keeper Adam Kwarasey, the Timbers would eventually post a 15-11-8 overall record, with Kwarasey posting a MLS-best 12 shutouts, and the team would make the postseason for the second time in team history.
The Knockout Round against Sporting Kansas City will live on in Portland Lore forever, and that it took place during a championship run will keep it in MLS highlight loops for decades. The brief description is this – the two teams were dead-locked at 2-2 after regulation and extra time. In the ensuing penalty shootout, Portland would eventually prevail, with back to back great plays by Kwarasey as he made his goal and then stopped his counterpart’s attempt. The live version was as thrilling as sports can get, and words simply don’t do it justice. You can view the full shootout here (video courtesy of http://www.timbers.com).
The remainder of their postseason was less intense but no less enjoyable, as Portland dispatched Cascadia Cup rival Vancouver in the semifinals (both games decided during regular time), and beat the regular season leader FC Dallas in the conference championship, with both games again being decided in regular time.
Facing Columbus Crew in the MLS Cup, Portland finally joined the championship ranks with a 2-1 victory over the host team.
40 years since their loss in Soccer Bowl ’75, the Timbers are a champion of Portland. While they may not fit the mold of Portland Champions past, they finally join their brethren and are the latest in a long line of franchises to win a title within their first decade.
Whether or not freshly broken soil is a good omen for sports teams in Portland, the Timbers are at the top of their respective mountain and have finally rid themselves of their championship drought, if the drought was 5 years or 40 years makes no real difference.
Congrats to the champs, and to Soccer City USA, longtime home of the Portland Timbers, the number one soccer team in the United States.
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