Since arriving in the Rose City from Vancouver in 1977, former Canadian international and NASL Timbers midfielder Brian Gant (above, right) has laid down roots and become entrenched in the Portland soccer community. A die-hard Timbers supporter, Gant is currently the assistant athletic director at Catlin Gabel School as well as serving as a health and physical education teacher. The Vancouver, B.C., native also coaches for local youth soccer club F.C. Portland and previously led the Catlin Gabel girls soccer team to 11 consecutive Oregon class 3A/2A/1A state soccer titles from 1994-2004.
Gant, along with his younger brother Bruce – a B.C. firefighter and the Timbers first pick of the 1979 NASL draft – is one of a few former players to serve on both sides of the border. Canadians Garry Ayre and Dale Mitchell also played for Vancouver during their careers.
Gant took a few minutes out of his day to wax about the rivalry with our Canadian neighbors ahead of the MLS Timbers clash with the Whitecaps on Saturday (7pm PT, Presented by JELD-WEN Windows & Doors; ROOT SPORTS, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940).
Having previously played for the Whitecaps and being a native of the area, what was the significance of playing against your hometown team?
BG: “When I first came to Portland (in 1977), I’d had two good years in Vancouver. I played every minute of every game in the first year, but in the second year I got injured and that put me out for about a third of the season. In the third season, they changed coaches and it was my ex-National Team coach Eckhard Krautzun and things didn’t work out (as Krautzun brought in more foreign talent at the expense of North American talent). I asked to go. When I went to Portland, they were in a building year and they really wanted me. I came down here and just loved it. When you go back to your hometown, you wanted to prove that they made a mistake. That was always my thing. Those were always games you circled on your calendar.”
What do you remember about your introduction to the Timbers/Whitecaps rivalry?
BG: “They were all conference games back then and it was huge. Every game that was in conference for us became huge. You never wanted to lose, no matter where you were in the table. There was no love lost. Some games you just played, these games you really didn’t like each other. I had a lot of Canadian friends that played for the Whitecaps and for Seattle. You never spoke to them before the game. That was all done after the game. My roommate (and fellow Canadian), Peter Stanley, used to say when Vancouver would play in Seattle, “I hope the dome caves in.” He didn’t want either one to have success. One of us usually didn’t make the playoffs and you didn’t want to be that one team.”
Is there a match against the ‘Caps that sticks in your mind more than others?
BG: “Oh yeah. We played Vancouver down here and we had just brought in striker Ron Futcher and his first home game was against Vancouver. Vancouver was on top of us in the league and they came down here and we stuffed them 5-0. We just rolled them. Futcher got three goals, Dale Mitchell got a goal, I was out there playing (recorded an assist on one of Futcher’s goals) and my brother (Bruce) got to play. I remember that one more than most.”
Note: That match occurred on Sunday, May 2, 1982 at then-Civic Stadium, now known as JELD-WEN Field.
How exciting is it to see it take on its current form in MLS?
BG: “In Vancouver, they have good fans, but the environment at JELD-WEN Field is unbelievable. Whenever I go to the games, I wish I could go back in time and bring people back to see what it’s like. You wish that all the guys you played with could all-of-a-sudden reappear at the game and share it with you. It really is something special. It’s the way soccer is supposed to be played, in front of a crowd like that.”
What’s the difference between the ‘Caps/Timbers rivalry, compared to the rivalry with Seattle?
BG: “It’s got to be the US versus Canada thing back when I was playing. Now, it’s more about the pride of your city. We love our soccer and we’ll show you how much we love our soccer.”