Dale Mitchell came to the Rose City in 1979 as a young forward looking to make his name in the North American Soccer League. The Vancouver, B.C., native played four seasons for the Timbers from 1979-1982 and ranks in the club’s NASL Top 5 all-time in both goals scored (35) and assists (24). A member (and later head coach) of the Canadian National Team, Mitchell played in the 1984 Summer Olympics and appeared in the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico following his Timbers career. Currently, Mitchell serves as director of coaching at Coquitlam Metro-Ford youth soccer club in Coquitlam, B.C.
You arrived in Portland in 1979, following two seasons with Vancouver, but you were still young at just 21 years old. Was there much of an adjustment period and what were your initial impressions coming to the Timbers?
DM: “It was such a great group of guys to have as teammates. Clive Charles actually helped convince (head coach) Don Megson to sign me. I was in Vancouver with the Whitecaps, but after a couple of seasons was getting anxious to play more. Tony Waiters was the coach in Vancouver, but halfway through 1979 I asked him if I could trial with another club. I was in Portland for about a week when Meggy told me
Especially as a young player and a forward, you had to prove your worth with production. You certainly did that, recording 35 goals in four seasons with the Timbers. How did you handle the expectations to produce as one of the team’s main options at forward?
DM: “Like all young players, and especially forwards, your play initially is inconsistent. I would go on a hot streak and score regularly for a few matches and then there were dry spells where I didn’t produce at all. I was lucky to have coaches who continued to persevere with me.”
Do you have a most memorable moment that stands out to you from your career in Portland?
DM: “There were a number of us from Vancouver: the Gant brothers (Brian and Bruce), Garry Ayre and Greg Ion; so playing against the Vancouver Whitecaps was always special. They were Soccer Bowl champions in ’79, but I think we managed to beat them nearly every season I was in Portland. For some reason we had their number.”
During your career in the NASL, it was common for players to play both indoor and outdoor soccer. For much of the last 10 years of your career, you played indoor soccer for various teams. Is there something about the indoor game that entices you, or was it more about staying in shape and continuing to play?
DM: “The thing that most enticed me initially was that after the NASL folded in 1984, indoor soccer was the only league in North America to make a living in. But if you ask most professional players, even today, if they enjoy a five-a-side match, you will get a resounding ‘Yes.’ That was what the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) was, a really good five-a-side league. A good number of quality players from the NASL rounded off their careers in it – guys like Juli Veee, Steve Zungul and Jørgen Kristensen. Really good footballers.”
Growing up in Canada, were you ever interested in playing hockey or lacrosse?
DM: “I am a hockey fan, but the practices were too early in the morning for my Dad!”
While playing for the Timbers, you earned your first cap for Canada’s senior national team after playing your way up through the U-20 and U-23 national team ranks. Explain what that feeling was like, pulling on the Canadian colors for your first cap in September 1980 in a friendly against New Zealand.
DM: “It is like a lot of things that happen when you are younger, you just take it as normal. It’s only when your career ends and you get a chance to reflect for a minute that you realize there were some great moments. I see people up here all the time that want to talk about my playing days. It’s kind of nice to know that people remember.”
A member of Canada’s national team for the 1984 Olympics and the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, how do you feel your time with the Timbers in the NASL helped prepare you for the game’s biggest stages?
DM: “Quite honestly, Canada would never have been part of the 1984 Olympics or 1986 World Cup without the NASL and the opportunity to develop it provided for guys like me, Bruce Wilson, Bob Lenarduzzi, and others. Just look at the team from that era and you will see a list of young Canadian guys playing in a league regularly against the likes of George Best, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff. I’ll always be grateful to the Timbers organization of the NASL era.”
Do you still keep an eye on the Timbers results?
DM: “Sure, I still follow the league. What has happened in the Northwest with the Sounders, Whitecaps and Timbers being reborn just brings you back. It’s a great thing to see.”
You’ve held coaching positions in the professional ranks as well as with the Canada National Team (2007-09), and now you’re the director of coaching at Coquitlam Metro-Ford youth soccer club in British Columbia. Can you share some advice for young coaches and, if the opportunity were to come up, would you consider reentering the pro ranks as a coach again?
DM: “Coaching is a tough job, but I’ve enjoyed all the levels that I have worked with and the different challenges they bring. Coaching starts with a love for the game. Without that I think it’s difficult, and with it you will find a way and can achieve a lot. In terms of my coaching future, I’ve learned that a coaching career is a hard thing to plan out, so we’ll see.”