A rivalry rekindled: NASL days built a strong foundation for NW rivals

Old foes POR & VAN set for Cascadia clash

The Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps will renew a rivalry rich in history in the Northwest on Saturday (7pm PT, FOX Soccer; 750 AM The GameLa Pantera 940 AM), one that certainly maintains different vitriol from Portland’s rivalry with Seattle, but a meeting that is exceptional in its own way in part because of the sides’ time in the North American Soccer League (NASL).

Dating back the start of the NASL in 1975, the Timbers and ‘Caps met 21 times until Portland folded following the 1982 season. 

On both sides, several names familiar to each set of supporters put in remarkable performances against their Cascadia rival, including Scottish midfielder John Bain — Portland’s NASL leader in goals scored (45) and assists (55). 

 John Bain Photo: Portland Timbers 

Bain faced the ‘Caps from 1978-82, netting a hat-trick in a 5-1 win at Civic Stadium (now JELD-WEN Field) on July 26, 1980.

Now the Director of Soccer Operations for Beaverton soccer club Westside Metros and a member of the Timbers’ Ring of Honor, Bain noted the distinct difference in the Timbers’ rivalry with Vancouver as opposed to Seattle.

I think the rivalry was in some ways stronger with the Whitecaps in the NASL days (as opposed to Seattle),” Bain said. “Probably the biggest reason was that we had several players: Brian and Bruce Gant, Dale Mitchell, Garry Ayre, Peter Stanley and others that played for the Timbers that were from Vancouver. Also, although both the Whitecaps and Seattle had good support, the Whitecaps fans were more like the fans you have at games today.”

Several of the Timbers’ players during those final 4-5 seasons in the NASL had played for the ‘Caps before coming to Portland, including Brian Gant, Mitchell and Ayre.

Most matches between the teams ended up close affairs, but occasionally Portland was able to turn up the heat on its northern neighbors, like in the match featuring Bain’s hat-trick.

It’s always good to beat the Whitecaps and it was very satisfying to beat them so convincingly as they always had a very strong team,” Bain said. “To beat them 5-1 at home was special.

“Individually, scoring a hat-trick against the Whitecaps was nice. It was bittersweet in some ways as my mum and dad and sisters had visited Portland for the first time and had just left that morning to fly back to Scotland. I always kind of wished that they had been there and been able to enjoy seeing me score the hat-trick that night.”

The rivalry with Vancouver quickly developed as Portland won the first six meetings overall and knocked the ‘Caps out of the 1978 NASL playoffs by sweeping the two-leg series. Vancouver had more success later, winning five of the final six matches.

“The first year I played for Timbers in 1978 we already had a strong Vancouver connection on the Timbers,” Bain said. “We also beat the Whitecaps in the quarterfinals of the playoffs and beating them in the second leg of the playoffs in front of a full house at Empire Stadium was one of my best memories as a Timber.”

Bain wasn’t the only Timbers player to have success against Vancouver. English midfielder Tony Betts scored against the ‘Caps in his first career start in 1975 and ended up scoring in five straight matches against Vancouver from 1975-76.

Mitchell, a Vancouver, B.C., native, scored five times against his old squad, including once in a 5-0 win over the ‘Caps on May 2, 1982 — the penultimate game of the teams’ NASL matches.

Forward Clyde Best netted a team-high six goals against Vancouver, scoring four times in a two-game span in the 1980 season.

“The teams matched up well,” Bain said. “Both were British style teams and I would say, on paper, the Whitecaps were the stronger squad. Most games were really tight, but we seemed to squeak out a few good wins against them.”

Now, with both the Whitecaps and the Timbers back on the main stage of American soccer, the rivalry enters its 36th year with, similar to Seattle, the opportunity to bring the Northwest soccer scene to the forefront of MLS.

“I think its great for the Northwest that all three teams are playing in the MLS,” Bain said. “Having the Whitecaps, Sounders and Timbers names back playing against each other is fantastic for soccer in this region. Also, to have that (more than) 30 years of history of each franchise and how soccer has evolved over those years is special.”