PORTLAND, Ore. – In early 1980, Bernie Fagan was searching for a club to call home.
The veteran defender and midfielder, who had been playing in the North American Soccer League (NASL) since 1974, had spent several seasons struggling with injury and had just finished playing a season with an indoor soccer team in Detroit, Mich.
But Fagan, who was then 30 years-old and tired of spending time away from his family in Los Angeles, wanted desperately to get back to the West Coast. He spent hours calling NASL club after NASL club—the Vancouver Whitecaps, the San Jose Earthquakes, the Seattle Sounders—asking for a trial.
Bernie Fagan, circa 1981
Finally, a fortuitous call to the Portland Timbers front office resulted in the chance that he'd been waiting for.
The receptionist told Fagan that the team was training down in Southern California for its preseason. She asked him if he could drive out to Anaheim to talk to the coach. Fagan, desperate for the opportunity, didn't hesitate.
"I played one of the best games I ever played in my life," Fagan remembered about his tryout. "I hit tens. Just one of those things. I knew I was a decent player, but I was on fire that day."
Not only did Fagan play some of the best soccer of his career during that tryout, but he was also on the verge of becoming a U.S. citizen. This was a crucial advantage in a league that required each club to feature six American players on a 17-man roster that was typically filled with foreigners.
"Now [Timbers head coach] Vic Crowe is looking at me thinking: 'I've got this English guy, who's a U.S. citizen, gotta bring him!'" Fagan said.
When Crowe asked Fagan to sign with the club, Fagan immediately put pen to paper, signing a contract to join the Portland Timbers before the team had even left Los Angeles.
For a player who had spent most of his professional career in the U.S. bouncing from Seattle to Los Angeles to Colorado to Detroit, Fagan was more than happy to move his family to Portland and finally put down roots in his adopted country.
"Portland was a special city for me. I loved the city. I took a liking to it right away and I really had a warm feeling playing here,” Fagan said with a laugh.
But when the Timbers ended operations in 1982—the NASL itself would cease just two years later—Fagan suddenly saw a productive professional career come to an abrupt close. It was time for him and his Timbers teammates to plan their next moves.
Fagan, who had spent years coaching kids on the side, says the choice was simple.
"We were one trick ponies," he said of himself and his Timbers teammates. "Soccer is the word. That's what we can do. But now [in 1982] we're on the coaching side of things. Not everyone coached before, but I did."
Today, 35 years later, Fagan still calls the Portland metro area home, having coached at the club level, professional and the collegiate level with Portland State University and Warner Pacific University.
It was Fagan, along with other former Timbers players who got into coaching like Clive Charles, Brian Gant, and John Bain, who helped lay the groundwork for the explosion of youth soccer in Oregon.
"It took awhile to get it going in Portland, but when some [youth] clubs started, they started to build big attendance and now they've got loads of coaches," Fagan said. "And it flourished. It grew very quickly.”
Having built such a strong foundation, both at the club and collegiate levels, Fagan recently decided to retire from his head coaching position at Warner Pacific. After 26 years there, Fagan says it was time for him to move into another chapter of his life.
"I enjoyed my time with Warner Pacific," he said. "It was a long time, a long period of time, a long bite out of your life. I made the decision that it was time for me to move back a little bit."
But knowing Fagan, it won't be long before the sport he loves comes calling again.