A trailblazer, do-it-all forward and Timbers legend: Get to know Clyde Best

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Best, who scored 38 goal and contributed 27 assists in 115 games with Portland, will be honored Saturday

In a sport with over 159 years of history, the name Clyde Best still stands out.

While the England Football Association traces back to 1863, it wasn’t until the 1960s that a Black player laced up in the top tier of English soccer. Best, who played for West Ham United between 1968 and 1976, was one of several Black players who paved the way for those who came after.

Best endured his share of racist chants from opposing fans throughout the country, but quickly became a fan favorite in West London. Whether asked to receive the ball deep in midfield and carry it forward, take a shot from outside the box or be an aerial option in the box on set pieces, Best did it all.

The forward may be most remembered for his 221 appearances with the Hammers and helping break the color barrier in English soccer, but his story cannot be told without the inclusion of the Timbers.

Best spent five years in the Rose City, scoring 38 goals and contributing 27 assists. He played 115 games in Green and Gold, his second-longest tenure with a single club, after West Ham. Nearly 42 years after his final game as a Timber, Best returns to Providence Park where he will be recognized at halftime of the club’s match against Colorado on Saturday night.

Whitecaps 77 Home Lenarduzzi, Koeppel, Bason, Timbers

In 1967, a teenage Best helped Bermuda’s national soccer team win a silver medal at the Pan American Games. Looking back at it now, that moment changed his life forever. The tournament put Best on the radar of West Ham United, which offered him a tryout. The rest is history.

While the longevity of his time in West London speaks to his on-field success, life was far from easy for Best. Thrust into the spotlight at a young age, the teenager dealt with the ugly side of the sport, one that comes with breaking a color barrier. Opposing fans jeered and taunted him from the stands every game, but things boiled over in 1970 when he received a threat that acid would be “thrown in his face” when he came out of the players’ tunnel the next game.

Several teammates helped Best deal with the increased scrutiny he faced daily, one of which is a name familiar to those in Portland: the late Clive Charles. The Charles family took Best in when he first arrived in London as a 17-year-old, which turned out to be the beginning of a bond that lasted the rest of their lives.

Charles and Best reconnected in Portland in 1977, where both teamed up with the Timbers. Best hit the ground running in the Pacific Northwest, playing a team-high 25 matches in his first season and finishing among the team’s scoring leaders with seven goals and four assists. The forward built off his debut year with a team-leading 12-goal season in 1978.

Just like in England, Best’s all-around game frustrated NASL opponents each week. The gravity he created with the ball at his feet drew defenders, something on full display in the limited clips that exist from his time in Portland.

In one game, Best picked up the ball behind midfield and burst forward into the Timbers’ attacking third, leaving two defenders in his wake. In another, this time against Vancouver, Best displayed his aerial prowess with a headed assist and headed goal, both at the back post, as Portland beat the Whitecaps 5-1.

Those were the types of moments Best provided every weekend. Both elusive with the ball at his feet and dominant in the air, it was a recipe for countless goals and assists. By the time Best departed Portland in 1981, he ended up being the club’s first-or-second-leading scorer in four of his five seasons.

No matter where he goes, Best will always first be remembered for the impact he made on soccer as a player in England. He was inducted into the Bermuda National Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. But his name also lives on in Portland, where he sits only behind John Bain in combined goals and assists during the club’s NASL era.

From the countless barriers he broke at a young age to the long and successful career he went on to have after, Best’s name is one worthy of recognition and on Saturday he will get his due for what he accomplished with the Timbers.