Portland soccer: Timbers and Thorns

Backed by a city full of fans, the Portland Timbers and Thorns have got game.

Portland Timbers vs FC DallasThe Portland Timbers celebrate a goal on their home field.

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 — especially after the Timbers became national champions in 2015 when they defeated the Columbus Crew to claim the MLS Cup. Meanwhile, the Portland Thorns FC (the Timber’s sister squad), joined the new National Women’s Soccer League  in 2013 and went on to win the league’s first championship.  When the Thorns snagged another NWSL Championship Shield in 2017 by defeating former champions, the Orlando Courage, Portland’s claim became undeniable.

Both squads take the pitch at downtown’s Providence Park, a Portland landmark that underwent a $31 million renovation in 2001 to make it footie-friendly, and is undergoing another $55 million expansion in 2018–’19 to add an additional 4,000 seats to the stadium’s eastern side, and a new street-level colonnade. The 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 Timbers celebrate that Portland spirit in their travel guide, “Portland Perfection,” which instructs fans on the best way to eat, drink and wander around their team’s home territory. Check out their favorite spots around town, including Pok Pok (of chicken wing fame), expansive Forest Park and the city’s only car-free bridge, Tilikum Crossing.

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 barstool 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. NOTE: Due to stadium renovations, the first 2019 season home games for both teams are delayed until June. Buy individual tickets here.

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