The Great Northwest Rivalry will begin anew on May 14th when the Portland Timbers travel to Seattle to face the Sounders – it just sounds like the old days to those of us raised on the original North American Soccer League (NASL).
Soon the season will present the other matches of the rivalry when the Vancouver Whitecaps face these two teams as well.
For many years Major League Soccer seemed to eschew the legacy of that wonderful league, but the old NASL is back with, first, the Earthquakes, then the Sounders, and now the Timbers and Whitecaps. I, for one could not be more pleased.
So, let’s delve into yesteryear and recall some of the Great Northwest Rivalry matches of that bygone era. Thanks to fellow columnist and acclaimed North American soccer historian Colin Jose and his NASL: A Complete Record of the North American Soccer League, we can do exactly that.
The first match in the rivalry’s history took place on June 9, 1974 when the Seattle Sounders visited the Vancouver Whitecaps and came away with a 2 – 0 victory in front of 11,258 fans in Empire Stadium. Seattle’s scores on the day were Jimmy Gabriel and David Butler.
They met again in the final match of the season for both clubs with Seattle once again prevailing 2 – 1 in front of 14,876 at Seattle’s Memorial Stadium. Seattle and Vancouver, as first year teams, propped up the Western Division standings at the end of the year and neither were a playoff team
The Portland Timbers began their NASL career in 1975 and their first Great Northwest Rivalry match was also its first NASL match, May 2nd against Seattle at home in Portland’s wonderful (well not the playing surface, but I love the Stadium’s architecture!) Civic Stadium.
Seattle was a winner again with Jimmy Gabriel scoring the lone marker in front of 8,131. Portland would take on Vancouver for the first time on May 16 at Empire and prevail 2 – 0 with goals by Barry Powell and Tony Betts in front of 6,918 fans.
These opening games were appetizers as the rivalry had not really begun to be a part of the cultural scene in any of the three cities, but it would heat up when, on July 26, 1975, 27,310 fans poured into Civic Stadium as the home team Timbers downed the Sounders 2 – 1 on Peter Withe’s brace against David Gillett’s goal.
And when the same two teams met in the 1975 quarterfinal round of the playoffs, Civic Stadium welcomed 31,523 as Portland, behind goals from Barry Powell and Tony Betts, advanced in the playoffs. The rivalry was joined.
In 1976 Seattle and Portland played in the second match of the season on April 25th and 24,983 were in Memorial Stadium to see Geoff Hurst score the winner in a 1 – 0 match.
When Vancouver visited the following weekend another 24,096 watched David Butler score the lone goal as the home team prevailed. And the season had opened with Portland traveling to Vancouver for a 3-2 victory in front of 11,352 at Empire.
Vancouver and Seattle advanced to playoffs against each other, with the Sounders securing a 1 – 0 victory through Geoff Hurst in front of 30,406. Now the rivalry was heating!
The 3-way rivalry continued to build through the 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, and 1982 seasons, until the Timbers left the league following that season. In none of those years was one team totally dominant.
Portland won five of seven in their first season and went to the NASL Championship, losing to the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the final. Seattle won four of five in 1976.
Seattle won four of 6 in 1980. Vancouver took four of five in 1981, five of six in 1982 and beat Seattle in all four matches of 1983, the final NASL season for both teams.
The final match of this 70-match rivalry occurred at BC Place on August 28, 1983 when 27,326 saw Vancouver wrap up the series with a 3 – 2 victory over Seattle.
Attendances built from the 1974 average of 13,067 toward 1980’s average of 23,380, before drooping in 1981 and 1982.
In 1983, the final season for Vancouver and Seattle (Portland had left the NASL following 1982) the average rocketed to 28,513, skewed upwards by a BC Place crowd of 60,342 on June 20.
In addition to Portland’s 1975 appearance in the championship, Seattle lost the 1976 final to the Pele-led Cosmos at Portland’s Civic Stadium, Vancouver won the NASL Championship in 1979 with a 2 – 1 win over the Rowdies in a match played at Giants Stadium, and Seattle once again was defeated by the Cosmos in the 1982 NASL Championship.
How will these teams renew the rivalry and rebuild the tradition? If the first matches and crowds of this Major League Soccer season are any indication, the Great Northwest Rivalry will need no build-up: the fans are ready today!
Here a couple of videos from the NASL era.
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