Mike Kugler
Photo by Mike Kugler

From the Stands: Timbers fan Mike Kugler recalls heady days of NASL Timbers

When Mike Kugler (pictured above, at right) first began attending Timbers games as a teenager in the mid 70s, he knew very little about the sport of soccer.

"When I was in high school, it was just a chance to do something in an evening that I knew nothing about," Kugler said about going to Timbers matches. "It was new. It was a chance to go downtown."

While Kugler was a baseball fan who attended a number of Portland Mavericks games, something about the Timbers grabbed hold of his imagination and sparked a lifelong love of the sport.

"The Timbers came and it was this different thing; I didn't know anything about soccer at the time," he said. "But the games were crazy. To this day, there's nothing like Timber Jim anywhere else in the world."

But as great as the game day experience was, what kept Kugler coming back were the Timbers faithful.

"Old Civic Stadium [now Providence Park] was a weird place, one of those typical urban fields carved out of some space and creaky and there were a lot of goofy people that went to see Timbers matches," Kugler recalled. "They probably weren't that unlike the crazy people who went to see the [Portland] Mavericks.

"I just liked that."

After graduating from Benson High School, Kugler began playing soccer in college and even started coaching. He was among an entire generation of soccer fans who, despite coming late to the sport, approached their new pastime with the enthusiasm of a fanatic.

Still, after leaving Portland to attend graduate school in the Midwest, Kugler found it difficult to continue following the team from so far away.

When the Timbers joined MLS, though, they suddenly came back onto Kugler's radar.

"From this distance [in Iowa], not living in Portland and not necessarily reading the Oregonian, I got what was happening in Oregon through the perspectives of outsiders," he said. "They thought Portland was the greatest franchise around."

And despite having been bred as a soccer fan alongside the old Timbers fanatics, Kugler was astonished by his hometown's response to the nascent MLS club.

"People turn out at the stadium, they're soaking wet, and they're screaming. They've got banners.

"My worry was that the team was going to be like most early days of franchises," he continued, noting the on-field difficulties faced by most expansion teams. "[But] they played hard. People just came out week after week. They raved about the stadium."

The Timbers' strong fan base, Kugler feels, stems in part from the way that Portland itself has changed in the years since he left town.

"The reputation of the club is really strong outside of Portland," he said. "I was surprised by that. But Portland feels like a very different place now, and in a way it's the perfect place for a successful football club."

Kugler, who is currently a Professor of History at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, misses living in Portland and wishes he had more chances to go to Timbers matches.

"I'm homesick," he said. "Short of [going to Portland], it's great to have your hometown represented so well by a franchise and by the fans. I think Portland sets a mark."

Kugler, however, is traveling to Portland this summer with his wife and children and on August 7, he will return to Providence Park to watch the Timbers play for the first time since those heady summer days back in the 70s.

It was those early days that helped set the foundation, Kugler believes, for all of the success that's followed.

"What started in the 70s and has continued to this day in Portland is pretty distinctive," he reflected. "Everybody that I know of who follows professional soccer in the United States knows about Portland and the fan base and what a great venue they have."

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