A Blast from the Past

On Saturday night, the Revolution will play their first-ever game against the expansion Portland Timbers at Gillette Stadium. But, it won’t mark the first time that the Portland Timbers have played in New England.

Nearly a generation before the launch of Major League Soccer, the Portland Timbers, name and all, came to historic New England to face the Hartford Bicentennials (named for the country’s upcoming bicentennial) in the original North American Soccer League. On July 11, 1975, with a meager 2,582 fans on hand to witness the only contest ever played between the two NASL expansion teams, the Timbers chopped down the Bi’s 3-1 at Dillon Stadium.

The following day, in front of another sparse crowd, the Timbers traveled to Beantown to play another patriotically-named club – the Boston Minutemen. With Portuguese legend Eusebio and Shep Messing on the Minuteman roster, the hosts claimed a 2-1 victory in front of 2,800 fans at Nickerson Field.

In the summer ’76, the Minutemen paid a visit to the Timbers in Portland, where they dropped a disheartening 2-0 loss on June 30, 1976 at Civic Stadium. It would be the last time the Minutemen and Timbers would ever play. Months after that encounter, the Minutemen retreated for good, never to play another game as the fledgeling NASL saw the demise of yet another franchise.

But, it was not the last time a New England club faced the Timbers. On June 3, 1977, the newly-renamed Connecticut Bicentennials, now playing in New Haven, hoped to find a victory this time around, but dropped a 3-1 loss to Portland in front of 8,794 fans at the Yale Bowl. With the constant flux of fledgling clubs coming and going, the Bi’s became its latest victim after they moved to California in the offseason to become the Oakland Stompers.

With the Bicentennials and Minutemen out of the pitcture, the expansion New England Tea Men took the mantle of the region’s only NASL respresentative in 1978. That summer, they arrived in Oregon to face the popular Portland club right in the heart of Rose City. In a shootout thriller before 14,615 fans, the hosts sent their fans home happy with a  2-1 win on June 16, 1978.

Two years after that shootout, the Tea Men, with rumors swirling of an impending move down south, welcomed the Timbers to Schaefer Stadium with revenge on their minds. And they succeeded in similar fashion with a 2-1 overtime win over their Northwestern counterparts on August 2, 1980. But, with only 7,214 in the stands to witness it, and crowds dipping even lower as the 1980 season rolled to a close, it looked like it would be the last time the Timbers would travel to New England.

The rumors, of course, were true. Months after the 2-1 win, the Tea Men were jettisoned to Jacksonville, where they lasted one more season before the orange and yellow ship set sail on NASL permanently and the team was disbanded. But this time around, with the league struggling to stay afloat, another New England-based club did not rise from the Tea Men’s ashes.

Meanwhile, the Timbers continued on for a couple of more seasons before they were forced put down the ax after the 1982 season. Three years later, the league collapsed, thus shutting out any possibility of the Timbers returing to the region anytime soon.

In 1996, some fourteen years after the Timbers kicked their last star-paneled soccer ball, MLS birthed ten top-flight teams. One of those teams – the New England Revolution – reclaimed its soccer roots at the very same stadium where the Minutemen and Tea Men played, albeit with natural grass this go-round.

On the other side of the country, the Timbers, who were briefly resurrected in 1989 as a minor league club, quickly fell back in obscurity for much of the ’90s. After a ten-year hiatus, they returned to professional soccer as a second division club in 2001. With the business of professional soccer booming in the Northwest as the first decade of the 2000s came to a close, MLS announced in 2009 that Portland would return to first division soccer in 2011.

Much to the credit of Portland’s passionate soccer fans, the Timbers have reclaimed their spot in the top flight. And, as it was in the heyday of disco, David Cassidy, and the Dukes of Hazzard, they will return to the region to face another patriotically-named New England opponent.

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About Brian O'Connell

Brian O'Connell serves as editor and staff writer at New England Soccer Today. He's also the Revolution beat writer for ESPNBoston.com, and is Officer at Large for the North American Soccer Reporters. He's contributed to The Associated Press, The Canadian Press, and has been featured on MLSSoccer.com & RevsNet.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianOConnell21 or e-mail him at BOConnell21@aol.com