May 16, 1975: Whitecaps 0 – Timbers 2 (Barry Powell, Tony Betts)
June 7, 1975: Timbers 3 –Whitecaps 2 OT (Graham Day, Brian Godfrey, Willie Anderson)
July 3, 1975: Timbers 2 – Whitecaps 1 (Tony Betts, Chris Dangerfield)
In Portland’s debut season of 1975, the Timbers played for their very first cup in a Cascadian derby with second-year club Vancouver Whitecaps. Though the Seattle Sounders were closer geographically, the Timbers and Whitecaps decided to award a trophy to the team who fared best across the ’75 season. There does not seem to be an explanation, however, as to why the teams did not renew the competition in the 1976 season.
Looking purely at the results, it would seem the Timbers dominated the Whitecaps en route to securing the Columbia Cup. But a closer viewing reveals a strong rivalry and compelling matches, even in the derby’s first year.
The game in the cup competition came at Vancouver’s Empire Stadium with the Whitecaps leading the NASL with a 5-0 record. Sergio Zanatta was the league’s second leading scorer early in the season as the Whitecaps looked a strong side. The Timbers came into the match having lost two of their first three games including an embarrassing 3-1 loss away to Denver Dynamos just five days earlier. But Portland arrived in Vancouver with a secret weapon: Willie Anderson. The Timbers’ right winger had missed the firs three games of the season as his home club, Cardiff City, were playing for the Welsh Cup.
Each of the first three games for Portland came on narrow fields, both in Portland and in Denver. At Vancouver the pitch widened and the inclusion of Anderson on the right, to complement Jimmy Kelly on the left wing, gave Portland its now famous dual-winged attack. Anderson carved through the Whitecaps’ defense, assisting on Barry Powell’s opener and giving Portland an attacking flair to complement Kelly. Said manager Vic Crowe after the game, “Wilie was tremendous, even though he arrived from England just two days ago. It’s unbelievable the way he played on Tartan turf for the first time in his life.”
In their second contest, this time at Civic Stadium in Portland, the Timbers had to come from behind twice in order to defeat their Northwest rivals in a game Crowe later referred to as the most difficult of the year. Graham Day, the Timbers lanky defender, equalized first, immediately after half-time, when Tony Betts and Peter Withe combined to provide service to Day’s head. After the Whitecaps went back ahead on a Glen Johnson goal, Portland replied with a Betts header from an Anderson chip. In overtime, captain Brian Godfrey smashed a 35-yard free kick for the match-winner to stun Vancouver and claim the Columbia Cup.
Due to the game being only the seventh of the season for Portland, the cup itself was not yet physically present. So despite winning the cup with two wins from two, the Timbers would have to wait to be awarded the trophy until their third meeting with Vancouver. That game came in early July in the midst of the Timbers’ seven-game winning streak.
Portland entered their final Vancouver match of 1975 with a litany of injuries, a problem that was worsened when Ray Martin was sent off in the 21st minute. Despite going a man down and using young players in a makeshift 3-4-2 formation, the Timbers found a way to get onto the shore sheet. Donald Gardner headed a pass into the patch of Chris Dangerfield who blasted a shot toward goal. The shot deflected off of Sam Lenarduzzi and into the Vancouver net. Then a Godfrey free kick found the head of Day who nodded down to Betts who scored what turned out to be the match-winner. Bruce Twamley did pull one back for the Whitecaps but it was not enough to prevent Portland from sweeping the season series.
After the third and final tie, the Timbers were finally awarded their deserved Columbia Cup. The players celebrated by drinking beer from the cup in the dressing room, enjoying their first taste of quantifiable success in the North American Soccer League. The Timbers did, of course, reach Soccer Bowl ’75 but were defeated in that final in San Jose. The team was awarded a trophy for winning the West Division, a title they wrapped up in early August, but the Columbia Cup will always be the first trophy acquired by the Portland Timbers.
It remains unclear why the Timbers and Whitecaps did not continue playing for the Columbia Cup in 1976 or beyond, though Portland would have retained the cup after winning both of their matches in ’76.