Editor's Note: Throughout the 2015 season, the Portland Timbers have been celebrating their fifth anniversary since arriving in MLS and 40th anniversary since the club’s founding in 1975. This Sunday, when the Timbers host the New York Red Bulls at Providence Park (2pm PT, ESPN), Portland will host an alumni reunion honoring past players from all eras of the club.
We’ll be talking with many of the memorable figures from the last four decades in the lead-up to Sunday. For today, we talk with Timbers all-time leading scorer and Ring of Honor member John Bain.
PORTLAND, Ore. – Growing up in Scotland, John Bain always dreamed of being a soccer player. But he never could have imagined what would happen to him after moving to England to play soccer for Bristol City.
In 1978, the head coach of the Portland Timbers was Don Megson. Megson had coached Bristol City's crosstown rival, Bristol Rovers, in the mid-70s and when he was looking for players to fill his 1978 Portland Timbers roster, he set his sights on 20 year-old City midfielder Bain.
When Megson approached Bain with the possibility of coming over to play for the Timbers, Bain—who admits that he had no idea where Oregon or Portland were on a map—pounced on the opportunity. He had so far failed to break into Bristol City's first team and was itching for a chance to prove himself and earn an opportunity back in the English First Division.
While the young Bain had traveled around Europe for soccer tournaments, he had never been as far as the United States. He looked at the NASL, filled with European greats in 1978, as an opportunity, a proving ground for a young Scottish kid with everything to play for.
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“It was exciting,” Bain remembered. “In the NASL at that time there were a lot of players that were my childhood heroes who were playing over here. It was maybe a good starting point for me. My focus was always to go back because I really wanted to break into the first team for Bristol.”
That 1978 season, Bain discovered a tenacity and a confidence that he didn't know he had.
In the first round of the playoffs that year, the Timbers played host to the Washington Diplomats in a one-game playoff which would decide who would advance to the quarterfinals to play the Vancouver Whitecaps.
With just 30 seconds remaining in regulation, Bain misplayed a safe pass as the Timbers tried to hold onto a slim 1-0 lead. The pass fell onto the foot of Diplomats midfielder Ken Mokgojoa. While Timbers goalkeeper Mick Poole saved Mokgojoa's shot, Diplomats forward Bobby Stokes finished off the rebound and sent the game into sudden-death overtime.
But overtime also afforded Bain the opportunity to redeem himself, and in the final minute of the first overtime period he did exactly that, striking the game-winning goal off of a Timbers corner kick.
“It's the most important goal I've ever scored,” Bain told the Oregonian after the match. “We had the upper hand most of the night and it took me a couple of minutes to get over that mistake.”
Even now, Bain remembers the Diplomats game and the role that he played as the highlight of his first season in Portland and, perhaps, the moment when he realized how special the experience of playing here had been.
Bain returned to Bristol City later that year, but he only played four games for Bristol City's first team before the Timbers purchased his contract outright.
“As a young player, you always want to make it in England. I think I gave it a good shot. I still wanted to play over there because that's what you want to do,” he reflected. “But at the same time, I made the decision that the Timbers really wanted me. I had a good experience the first year I came over. The game was growing here. I felt it was a good opportunity for my career as well.”
Bain has remained a part of the Portland soccer firmament—and a 2011 inductee into the Timbers Ring of Honor—ever since.
In the 148 games that Bain played as a Timber, the Scotsman scored 45 goals and notched 55 assists, both numbers good for first all-time in Timbers history across all eras.
What may be even more remarkable is that Bain achieved these feats despite only beginning to mature as a player. When the NASL-era Timbers folded in 1982, he was just 25 years-old.
“When I think I probably played my best soccer for the Timbers was the last two seasons I was here,” Bain said. “I felt like I became a really strong goalscorer/playmaker for the last couple of years I was here. At that point, I felt that I was doing well. You're still always wanting to do better. It was tough [when the team folded].”
These days Bain, who is the Director of Soccer Operations for adidas Timbers Alliance club Westside Timbers, remains unsurprised by the sustained level of support that the city of Portland has had for the Timbers across every era, through good times and bad.
“I think the most important thing for me is to see soccer come back and see it thrive and how it built up from the USL days and then to become an MLS franchise and just to see where soccer's king. That was huge. I would never be in the Timbers Ring of Honor unless that happened.
“To have your name up in the ring of honors with these guys it's incredible,” he added. “It's nice to see that when you come to the stadium, but for me, just having the team here and seeing how amazing the transformation has been and seeing the fan base here, to me that's the most rewarding thing about it.”