Portland Timbers Turn 39

Tony Betts

A press conference at the Multnomah Athletic Club introduced Oregon Soccer, Inc. to the public on January 23, 1975.

On this day in 1975, the Portland Timbers were born.

Actually, on this day in 1975 Portland was awarded a franchise as the twentieth team in the North American Soccer League. The Timbers name did not come until later, as did a logo, colors, a coach, players and eventually fans. But on January 23, 1975, the consortium of investors known as Oregon Soccer, Inc. finally found enough pledged money to convince the NASL leadership that Portland should be included in the upcoming 1975 season.

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The key players in the development of a Portland franchise from an idea to reality were Don Paul and John Gilbertson, though there were in upwards up two dozen local investors. Unlike the Portland Trail Blazers, who had heavy investment from Los Angeles-based Larry Weinberg, the leaders of Oregon Soccer, Inc. wanted to keep ownership in the club based solely in Portland and surrounding areas. The investor furthest afield was Dr. Augusto Proano who was all the way in Vancouver, Washington.

Paul, a former All-Pro defensive back with the NFL's Cleveland Browns, was the face of Oregon Soccer, Inc. and ultimately the Timbers' inaugural general manager, while Gilbertson, a local lawyer, helped build the financial viability of the nascent franchise.

Due to the late inclusion of Portland into the NASL, the club missed out on the 1975 collegiate draft and had less than four months to hire a coach, build a roster and sell tickets. Though soccer had been played in the area for roughly eighty years, an identity for the city's newest professional team was not necessarily a given. Thanks to the considerable success of the inaugural team, that identity was forged very quickly, but on January 23, even the optimistic Paul could not have imagined the record crowds and attachment to the English exports that came that summer.

On the day of the announcement, the Portland sports scene was an interesting one: the Trail Blazers were the third-worst team in the Western Conference with rookie Bill Walton causing controversy, the World Football League's Portland Storm had recently been impounded by the IRS and the Portland Mavericks baseball team, though successful at the gate, were unaffiliated with any Major League team and featured a literal cast of actors. Aware of the particulars of the local market and fragility of the young NASL, Paul cited a three-year plan with enough working capital to keep the club afloat, should troubles arise, and promised:

"We will conduct ourselves as professionals. Our office will be open at all times and we will have the type of coaches and athletes that are ambassadors of our sport...We will have a major league organization and we will conduct ourselves in that manner, with a qualified product on the field as well as in the front office. You will be proud of us and we will represent this state and this city with professionalism."

Thirty-nine years later, it is difficult to imagine Portland without the Timbers or envision being seated at Paul's press conference at the Multnomah Athletic Club. As the club enters its fortieth year, despite hiccups and absences in the past, it is stronger than ever and seemingly on the ascent. With all the successes of 2013 in mind and the 2014 pre-season on the immediate horizon, it's worth remembering the club's beginning and the promises that were made and kept over the years.

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