Timbers defeat Stars, Oregonian, 8.17.75

#ThrowbackThursday | The story of the 1975 NASL Portland Timbers and how they earned their trip to Soccer Bowl '75

The excitement was already palpable the day before the match, as dozens of Portland Timbers fans camped outside Civic Stadium – one even slept beneath a plastic tarp to keep off the August rain – lined up for a chance to score some general admission tickets.

The Timbers, in their very first season as a franchise in the North American Soccer League, had advanced to the NASL playoff semifinals. All that stood between them and a trip to the final in San Jose were John Sewell's St. Louis Stars.

Vic Crowe's boys had a secret weapon though: a 33,503-strong crowd of fanatics who, after the Timbers' dramatic golden goal playoff victory over rival Seattle Sounders, was just itching for a party. 

The team had captured lightning in a bottle. 

“...the City of Roses, long suffering metropolis of so many wilting sports teams, is Number One. Or at least one step closer to such,” wrote The Oregonian reporter Bob McEwen.

“After 59 fruitless years in the vineyards, Portland has found a winner. Businessmen, blue collar workers, street children, students, professional women, housewives, house husbands, kids and winos have become hooked junkies, soccer freaks.”

Those same soccer freaks created an intimidating atmosphere at old Civic Stadium, stomping their feet on the old metal bleachers and cheering their voices hoarse every time the Timbers advanced the ball towards goal. 

While there was no question that the raucous home atmosphere set the Timbers players more on edge –  “Everyone tends to be a little tense in a playoff game,” veteran Welsh midfielder Brian Godfrey reflected after the match – team-leading goalscorer Peter Withe literally rose to the occasion, heading a tipped Graham Day header past Stars keeper Peter Bonetti in the 56th minute. 

It proved the game-winner.

“It's bloody great. Bloody great,” Day said of the goal – and the victory – after the match. “In theory, that's how it ought to be. A perfect goal.” 

A perfect goal and a perfect game for the Timbers defense. Day had his way with whatever player the Stars threw at him, including 6'4”, 207-pound substitute John Carenza.

“I really don't think he plays that well – he's just big,” Day said of Carenza after the match.

And Timbers goalkeeper Graham Brown got into the spirit of things as well, making several huge stops in the game's opening minutes before shutting down a number of dangerous late attacks. Brown never hesitated to come off his line, whether to clear the ball out of danger with his feet or swipe the ball off the foot of a Stars attacker.

When the referee blew his whistle after 90 minutes, the massive crowd – the largest playoff crowd in NASL history up to that point – rose to its feet in applause and delight. Finally, finally a Portland team was heading to a championship. 

Today's soccer freaks, like their predecessors in '75, must surely be dreaming of a championship to call their own. Sunday's MLS Cup Final appearance against Columbus Crew SC marks the Timbers' first championship appearance since the 1975 Soccer Bowl. 

As The Oregonian's McEwen wrote back in '75: “From rooftop to rooftop, the shouts and cries of 33,503 Portland Timbers fanatics saluted the latest installment of the continuing saga of Soccer City, USA.”

On Sunday, 40 years after that inaugural Timbers team defeated the Stars en route to the 1975 Soccer Bowl, that saga continues.