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MLS Adds Atlanta for 2017, a Familiar Opponent Over the Years for the Portland Timbers

After a ten-year hiatus, clubs from Portland and Atlanta will play again starting in 2017.

Willie Anderson and the Timbers in the first ever game against the Chiefs - July 8, 1979
Willie Anderson and the Timbers in the first ever game against the Chiefs - July 8, 1979
KICK Magazine

The Portland Timbers have not played a team from Atlanta since 2007. In fact, despite playing in the same league for ten seasons over the years, Portland teams have only played Atlanta teams a total of thirteen times, including two playoff games. So describing Atlanta's entry into MLS in 2017 as a resumption of an old rivalry isn't exactly right, but there are a number of players who have played for teams in both cities and a bitter loss marked the end of competitive play between the clubs seven years ago.

Portland's connections to Atlanta predate the formation of the North American Soccer League. Vic Crowe, Portland's inaugural manager in 1975 had played with the Atlanta Chiefs of the National Professional Soccer League in 1967. When the NPSL merged with the United Soccer Association in 1968, the Chiefs moved into the new NASL. Crowe spent 1968 and the second half of the 1969 season with Atlanta before retiring from play and returning to England to manage Aston Villa.

The 1969 NASL season was a strange one as the league invited five British clubs to compete for a round-robin International Cup in the United States, but playing under team names present in the host cities. Aston Villa played as the Atlanta Chiefs in that first half of '69, employing 22-year-old winger Willie Anderson. Six years later Anderson was part of Crowe's Timbers team and currently tops the club's all-time games played list with 160 appearances over seven NASL seasons.

Two other original Timbers also had ties to the Chiefs as defenders Barry Lynch and Mick Hoban, then 20 and 19 years old respectively, joined Atlanta in 1971 from Aston Villa, then under Crowe's management.

When the Chiefs returned in 1979 (having folded after the 1973 season, and after changing names to the Apollos), former Timbers midfielder Pat McMahon and future Timbers forward Carl Strong were on the roster. Strong spent the 1982 season with Portland after the Chiefs folded for a second time in 1981.

One final note about the NASL era, Crowe returned to the Timbers in June 1980, replacing Don Megson and interim coach Peter Warner. His first game back in charge of Portland came on June 21 against the Atlanta Chiefs. The Timbers won 1-0 thanks to a Brian Gant goal in front of 9950 at Civic Stadium.

Like Portland, Atlanta featured several versions of professional soccer that were not necessarily top flight. One of those teams, the Atlanta Ruckus, featured former Timbers midfielder Chris Hellenkamp in its inaugural 1994 season. Later when the team changed ownership and name to the Silverbacks, Hellenkamp coached the team in 1998.

Those Silverbacks played against the reborn Timbers seven times in the regular season between 2004-07 and twice in the playoffs. Brent Sancho, who was part of the returning Timbers of 2001, later played for Atlanta in 2008 and Dan Antoniuk, who features prominently in the history of these two clubs, joined the Silverbacks in 2007 after spending three seasons in Portland. In 2009, Gavin Wilkinson added two players from Atlanta with David Hayes and Tony McManus joining the Timbers after playing together with the Silverbacks between 2005-08. The final player connection was Joe Bendik, who spent a college summer with the Silverbacks U23s in 2007 before eventually joining the Timbers for the 2012 MLS season.

Despite playing in the same league between 2001-03, Portland and Atlanta never faced off until June 5, 2004. Alan Gordon scored twice and Antoniuk added Portland's third but a late Atlanta goal gave the Silverbacks a 4-3 victory. In 2005, Antoniuk struck again for Portland against Atlanta, recording a hat-trick on September 8, 2005 at PGE Park.

The final meeting between teams from Portland and Atlanta came on September 23, 2007. Having drawn 1-1 in the semifinal first leg thanks to a second half Bryan Jordan goal, the Timbers were held to a 0-0 draw through extra time in the second leg. Andrew Gregor hit the post with Portland's first penalty attempt before three Silverbacks converted, including Mac Kandji. Lawrence Olum's penalty was saved in the fourth round and the favored Timbers bowed out at PGE Park. Atlanta went on to lose the USL-1 final to Seattle Sounders.

By the time Atlanta joins MLS in 2017, it will have been ten eventful years since the last meeting against the Timbers. In the interim the Silverbacks have taken two years off, experimented with Eric Wynalda running the team over cell phone and won an NASL title. Meanwhile, the Timbers joined MLS and qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League. Come 2017 it won't really be the return of an old rivalry but there is certainly history that ties the two cities together in professional soccer.