Minnesota United not only have the longest history with the Portland Timbers of any club in MLS — the Loons’ inaugural season opener was played at Providence Park on March 3, 2017 — the soccer history between Minnesota and Portland goes back considerably further.
As the first professional soccer team in Minnesota, the Minnesota Kicks were part of the fledgling North American Soccer League alongside the original Portland Timbers. That Timbers team was founded in 1975, one year before the Kicks, and went to the league’s final — the Soccer Bowl — in their first season, eventually losing to the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-0. The NASL Timbers made the playoffs twice more before folding in 1982, a year longer than the Kicks, who folded in 1981 despite making the playoffs every year of their existence, including getting to the Soccer Bowl in 1976 where they lost to the Toronto Metros-Croatia. (And yes, that was an actual team name.)
The shared history between Portland and Minnesota soccer continued in the 21st century as a new iteration of the Timbers played with the Minnesota Thunder in the A-League from 2001–2004 and in USL-1 from 2005–2009 and with the fledgling NSC Minnesota Stars in the USSL D2 Pro League in 2010. In 2011, the Timbers took up residence at Providence Park as an expansion team in MLS and they were joined by Minnesota United in 2017.
Their first meeting in the regular season as MLS teams ended disastrously for the Loons with a 5-1 loss that was all the more disheartening for how generally good MNUFC had looked in the preseason tournament at Providence Park that year. The expansion Loons managed three draws and six goals in the tournament but the regular season hit different. While Christian Ramirez would net the team’s first MLS goal late, it couldn’t remove the sting of a comprehensive thrashing by the Timbers.
Things since then have been markedly closer between the two sides, with only one of the ensuing nine matchups across the MLS regular season and the U.S. Open Cup being decided by more than a goal. The Loons got a measure of revenge for that season opening loss in 2017 with a 3-2 win in June at TCF Bank Stadium, but the next season, they ended up on the wrong side of a 3-2 scoreline at Providence Park in the first game for newly signed Designated Player Darwin Quintero. Later in 2018, the Loons once again got back at the Timbers when they visited Minnesota, downing them 3-2 in September.
In 2019, Minnesota United played back-to-back games against Portland in a single week in two different competitions in what was likely the best week in their MLS tenure up to that point. On August 4, they faced the Timbers at Allianz Field in a regular season matchup that ended in a 1-0 shutout and then just three days later, the two sides clashed again in the Midway, this time in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup. The Loons prevailed 2-1 in that game to book their ticket to a final against Atlanta United. The Timbers got one more crack at MNUFC on their home turf, but could only manage a scoreless draw.
The Loons opened their 2020 season with a resounding 3-1 win at Providence Park, their first season opening win as well as their first-ever win at Portland. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the season and leading to more regional matchups for teams, that win would be the two teams’ only meeting in 2020 but in 2021, Minnesota United picked up where they left off, sweeping the season series with a pair of wins — one at Providence Park in June and another a month later at Allianz Field.
All told, the Loons have not lost to the Timbers since that 3-2 loss at Providence Park in the summer of 2018, a five-game unbeaten run. Now the shared history of these two clubs gets another chapter. For the first time, the two will meet in the MLS postseason and this time, it’s win or go home.