- Oct. 10, 2011
The last time a top-flight club from Houston came to play the Portland Timbers it was July 19, 1980. The Timbers, as they are now, were hoping to find a playoff spot after a difficult start to the season. Their opponents, the Houston Hurricane, were in a similar position with just a month left in the season. Portland’s 1980 was one of change, turmoil and redemption. After Oregon Soccer, Inc., the club’s original investors, sold the team to timber giants Louisiana Pacific in the winter of 1979, the Timbers were overhauled. New owner Harry Merlo immediately spent over $1m to secure new players for a team that reached the NASL semi-final in 1978 but flopped under manager Don Megson in ’79. Merlo bought long-time Tottenham Hotspur midfielder John Pratt, former Bolton and Manchester City forward Stuart Lee, Bristol City defender Gary Collier, experienced NASL defender Bernie Fagan, Manchester City and former Scotland international defender Willie Donachie and Anderlecht and Holland international striker Robbie Rensenbrink.
Portland’s new look team started very slowly, losing five of their first seven games including an embarrassing 5-1 defeat away to California Surf in Anaheim. Megson’s job was on the line with so much money and talent in the side, yet he could not get his Timbers to respond. Merlo sacked Megson late at night after a 4-2 away loss against Fort Lauderdale Strikers, replacing the former Bristol Rovers boss with Peter Warner, the Timbers’ general manager and the pastor at Merlo’s church. Warner guided the Timbers to losses in four consecutive games, the final coming in the annual Rose Festival Cup match against Seattle Sounders on June 14. Former Timbers manager Vic Crowe was convinced to return to the touchline and replaced Warner for a June 21 home match against Atlanta Chiefs. The Timbers won that match but could only manage three more victories before the Hurricane arrived in mid-July.
Having just defeated Dallas Tornado 3-2 in a shoot-out, compliments of Lee’s brace, the Timbers were hoping for a string of victories to lift them back to their 1978 form. Instead, against Houston, Portland dominated possession but could not find a way into the goal. Into over-time the match went as Houston brought in second-year Argentine forward Juan Carlos Michia. Just three minutes later the Hurricane left Civic Stadium with a 1-0 victory. Michia combined with Ian Anderson (pictured) to score the game’s only goal in a scramble in front of Timbers’ goalkeeper Mick Poole. Diving to clear a Ruben Morales corner, Poole was left sprawling as Michia and Anderson clipped shots at the goal. It was Michia who ended up with the ball, barreling over Donachie to push the ball over the line and win the game for Houston. Portland protested but the goal stood, worsening an already difficult season for the Timbers.
Interestingly, Portland used the Houston loss to motivate the rest of the season, winning seven of their final nine games, including the last five. Yet those wins were not quite enough, falling just six points short (one win in the NASL’s scoring system at that time) of the final playoff position in the National Conference. In fact, Portland finished the season with more points than the Hurricane, though Houston did qualify for the post-season as they were in the American Conference. Houston crashed out of the playoffs in the first round, losing their best-of-three series to Edmonton Drillers.
Since that July day, early in Vic Crowe’s second stint as Timbers’ manager, Portland has not played a Houston team at Civic Stadium in any other league or iteration of the team. The Timbers played Houston Dynamo on August 14 at Robertson Stadium to mark their first game in Houston since their May 13, 1979 over-time loss to the Hurricane.