He’s 85 now. Retired. A regal gentleman who, when he’s not traveling the world with Beatriz, his wife of 59 years, can be found sitting next to her in their mid-field seats at Portland Timbers games.
And as Doc Proano — “Everybody calls me Augusto, Gus or Doc; I respond to any of them” — follows his beloved team, he stands as a monument of soccer history in this area.
Proano, who has lived in Vancouver since 1962, was one of the original owners of the original Portland Timbers. He was there for the magic of 1975, when an upstart first-year team reached the title game of the North American Soccer League and earned Portland the moniker of “Soccer City USA.”
Those were heady days. By the end of that season, the Timbers were drawing 30,000 fans to what was then Civic Stadium, and they were serving as a harbinger of the sport’s growth in this country.
Not that it was Proano’s first brush with soccer. He came to this country from his native Ecuador for medical school, and he brought the world’s game with him.
“Futbol, as we call it all over the world, is the most important sport in the world,” he said. “So I knew it was a matter of time.”
Proano helped start the countdown. In 1967, he put together and coached what he believes was the first youth soccer team in Southwest Washington. He developed players who went on to successful high school and college careers. He taught the game that he had learned from his father, all while raising five children and running a successful practice as a psychiatrist.
“We would just play, kick the ball, and eventually we put a team together,” he said. “Since I was the only person who had actually played soccer, I was the coach.
“Nobody beat us. Nobody.”
And yet the most fascinating part of this fascinating life might be Proano’s involvement with the original Timbers. Along with several investors from Portland, he owned a small share of Oregon Soccer, Inc., which landed an NASL franchise for the area.
At the time, the NASL was The Next Big Thing. And Portland, being a city of iconoclasts, embraced it.
“The game is so fascinating; it’s easy to understand,” Proano said. “You don’t have to be a sophisticated man. You have a ball, you have 11 players on a team, and each one has a role to perform.”
The magic didn’t last long. It rarely does with The Next Big Thing.
“We didn’t make any money,” Proano said. His group sold the team after about five years, and the NASL folded in 1984.
But a foundation had been poured, providing the cornerstone for the development of the sport in this country. That beget Major League Soccer. And that beget a new Portland Timbers and a new frenzy of soccer worship in the area.
“It’s magnificent,” Proano said. “The futbol has improved so much, it’s very refined. The Portland Timbers are a good team.”
And as Doc Proano sits and watches, surrounded by family and wearing a Portland Timbers scarf, he can take pride in the small role he has played in that refinement.
“The important thing,” he said, “is this club became a part of Portland.”
Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To “Like” his Facebook page, search for “Greg Jayne – The Columbian.”