Timbers vs. Seattle, A-League, 5.11.01
Photo by Allison Andrews

#ThrowbackThursday | The first home match of the Portland Timbers 2001 rebirth

Fourteen years ago this past week, the Portland Timbers played a home league match at then-PGE Park, now Providence Park for the first time in the club's A-League/USL era. After three road matches (one league and two U.S. Open Cup qualifiers), Portland played its first home league match as a professional side since the NASL version of the franchise ended following the 1982 season. On May 11, 2001, the club faced the same team it faced in its NASL opener some 26 years prior, the Seattle Sounders. And on this warm spring day, the Timbers beat Seattle 2-0.

For manager Bobby Howe, the game was a matchup between his past and his future. After playing for West Ham United and Bournemouth, Howe came to the United States as a player/coach for the Sounders in 1977. Eighteen years after the Sounders NASL folded, Howe reappeared on the professional coaching ranks as the manager of the reborn Timbers. Howe has vivid memories of the first A-League match against the Sounders.

"The thing I remember about the game was that we played very well," Howe said in a phone interview this week. "The Timbers played extremely well in the first half of the game."

With legendary Timber Jim watching on, Portland did indeed jump out of the gates against the Sounders, scoring twice in the first half on the way to the 2-0 victory. Howe wasn't the only former Sounder who contributed to Portland's victory as one-time Seattle player Mark Baena scored the opener while once-and-futue Sounder Darren Sawatzky delivered assists on both of the goals.

Future Trinidad and Tobago World Cup player Brent Sancho was the other player on the scoresheet for Portland. The goal was the only one Sancho scored in league play for the Timbers and he is one of two players in club history to score their lone career Timbers goal against the Sounders (David Horst is the other).

For Howe, the most impressive part of the match was not the fact that the new side won the game, but it was the manner in which they played.

"It was some really exciting soccer, which was amazing since it was our first game. And (we) took the game to Seattle in the first half," Howe said.

The victory took place in front of a raucous 12,295 fans who welcomed professional soccer back to the Rose City. On only one other occaision did a Timbers-Sounders regular season game draw such a large crowd in the A-League/USL eras.

"I thought the crowd would be big and it was. It was incredibly noisy, exciting atmosphere" Howe said. "The result for our first game was the right result. It was a terrific occaision for our first game back."

After the match, the Timbers went on to win their next five home matches, which included three league games, a U.S. Open Cup qualifier and a friendly against the MLS's San Jose Earthquakes. For the season, Portland finished league play with a 9-2-2 record at home.

"It got some points for us in the table and I thought it set us up well very, very nicely. Overall, we played very well at home for the most part," Howe said. "The crowd was always fantastic at home. The home crowd was always very vociferous, very supportive. It was almost like a cultural thing for them, behind the goal there."

Howe went on to manage the Timbers for five seasons, which is the longest tenure of any manager in the club's history. After leaving Portland after the 2005 season, Howe returned to Seattle to become the director of coaching for youth club Emerald City Football Club. Howe's last visit to Providence Park saw a new chapter in the longstanding rivalry between the Sounders and Timbers.

"I watched them play against the Sounders in the playoffs, when they won that series," Howe said, referring to Portland's MLS Western Conference playoff victory over Seattle in 2013. "It's one of those things, I can't win and I can't lose. When people ask me who I'm supporting, I have to be pretty impartial." 

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