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Soccer City USA

By Jose Romero - Apr 21, 2017

People in town say, and it is painted on a wall downtown. "Keep Portland Weird."

Funny. I grew up in the area. Nothing about the city was ever weird to me. What is a little strange, though, is seeing Providence Park -- formerly known as PGE Park and Civic Stadium when I lived there -- sold out. Filled to the top of the seating bowl with a crowd for sports. 

I went to that stadium so many times as youngster, and the only time it was ever that full was for Portland State University's Division II playoff football games. Anyone remember Chris Crawford and Darren Del'Andrae? It's OK, I wouldn't expect many to know those ex-PSU Vikings QBs.

Last weekend I arrived from Phoenix and took three people to their first Portland Timbers game. My sister, my best friend growing up and my son. 

I'm a Timbers vet, I suppose. I've seen the old USL side play and, three times, the MLS team. Not including the MLS All-Star Game, also at Providence Park in 2015.

I can see why the comparisons are made to soccer in Europe. Portland has a small, cozy stadium with 20,000-plus seats with a downtown backdrop and light rail service. The only way to ever expand the stadium is to build up, or else the train tracks are affected on one side, the giant concrete facade of the Multnomah Athletic Club on one end, and the streets around the park are so narrow that it feels like, well, a city in Europe. 

There is no music, only the constant pounding of drums and chants from the Timbers Army, which spill over into other sections making for a noisy and lively atmosphere. You can't truly feel the buzz and energy of the crowd until you are there in person. TV doesn't do it justice. 

You stop at one of two light rail stations near the park and get off the train with hundreds of other scarf-and-jersey-clad fans, and all that comes to mind, for me anyway, is this is how it must feel in, say, a city in Germany. Or Ireland, Italy (I took a train to a Siena Serie A match), England.

The Timbers, practically unbeatable at home, could not score a goal on my night there and fell 1-0 to Sporting Kansas City, a rugged defensive team. But if ever a town and community were perfect for soccer, Portland just seems like the ideal place in America. 

That sounds biased because I am from there. But I remember a Portland that isn't like the one that exists today. The place has long embraced soccer, and now it has a team to embrace. 

The NWSL team, the Thorns, draws thousands. THOUSANDS of fans. And there is plenty of room to be a Timbers/Thorns fan AND a Trail Blazers basketball fan. Portland is still in many ways a small city, a small market that MLS must be thrilled to have despite the demographics.

Yes, home sweet home. One thing that hasn't changed, for all the new traffic problems and specialty donut shops and booming real estate market, is the city's support for its teams. 

The stadium will always house some of my earliest baseball memories, but it sure felt good to be able to share the soccer experience with the first-timers. And it really felt good to see my son, four years old, watching the action before his eyes. We will make a soccer fan out of him for sure -- he's already talking about playing indoor this summer. 

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