Welcome to Soccer City, U.S.A. This nickname, bestowed back when professional soccer took its first stateside shot in the 1970s, encapsulates the football fever that’s long run rampant in Portland — whether there’s been a major league team here or not. But since 2011, when the Portland Timbers became Major League Soccer’s 18th franchise, the name has rung truer than ever. In 2013, sister squad the Portland Thorns FC joined the new National Women’s Soccer League and went on to win the league’s first championship, making Portland’s claim undeniable.
Both squads take the pitch at downtown’s JELD-WEN Field, a Portland landmark that underwent a $31 million renovation to make it footie-friendly. The 22,000-seat home field is not only within walking distance of downtown hotels, it’s also accessible via multiple modes of public transportation, including MAX light rail.
“We’ve got something that’s rare in Major League Soccer,” says Timbers and Thorns owner Merritt Paulson, “a soccer-specific stadium that’s in the heart of the city.” Not to mention one that’s filled with the country’s biggest fans, many of whom belong to the die-hard Timbers Army, unofficial boosters who have been following the team for decades. On game nights, they fill the stands and remain on their feet, cheering wildly and singing heartily, the entire game.
“The atmosphere here is one that a lot of teams are trying to create,” says Paulson. “This has been very organic, in the spirit of Portland, and it’s something that is fan-generated. It’s special.”
The spirit is convivial, but there’s no doubt: Winning is everything to these fans, who wear scarves that say “No Pity” and shout chants all match long — especially against the Timbers’ arch-rivals, the Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps, whom they battle for the Cascadia Cup. As you might imagine, soccer tickets sell out quickly in Portland. But if you get shut out, don’t fret. Pull up a bar stool instead, because the game is likely to be on every TV in town.
The Timbers season runs from March – October. The Thorns play April – August.