A Look Back at Soccer City, USA
There has been some talk lately about which town truly holds the title of Soccer City, USA. There have been surveys taken, algorithms ran and numbers pushed around to try and quantify it. And what does it all prove? Well, we don’t know. We haven’t looked. We’ve too busy living, breathing and bleeding soccer here in Portland, Oregon aka Soccer City, USA.
Instead of talking about the future of titles, we want to take a second to look back at the rich history of the ole association football that has been pumping through the Rose City’s veins since before you were born – well, some of you at least.
On Dec 6, 2015, the Portland Timbers won the MLS cup and brought to a boil something that has been simmering for the past 40 years, since the day the National American Soccer League came to the city in 1975 and the Timbers were born. As you know, Portland doesn’t do anything small potatoes. If our Trail Blazers are going to the NBA championship, there will be Blazermania, and if our city is getting a soccer team, well then, you best believe a saga will ensue.
In that first year as an NASL franchise, the Timbers made it to the championship, as we like to do. It was called the “Soccer Bowl” back then and we didn’t come out victorious but while the team tasted defeat, the city tasted something that left them wanting more.
But that was the 70s, and this story starts much further back then that, back to 1926 when our stadium, which is now known as Providence Park, was first constructed. If you have ever been to the stadium, you would say it doesn’t look a day over 50 to its face, but you can tell it’s lived a full life. Out of the 20 professional MLS stadiums, our Providence Park is the oldest of them all. And it’s seen some stuff. It was even the home to Pele’s last official soccer game. Why would one of the greatest players off all time want to end his career anywhere else?
The Timbers continued as a football club in the NASL until 1982 when the team folded. Timbers proper went away, but as they say, you can take the soccer team out of the city, but you can take the city out of the soccer team…or something like that. Portland still loved it’s soccer and the tradition was carried on by F.C. Portland, which is why you see that emblem intermingled with all the other scarves and jerseys in sports bars around town.
Outside of F.C. Portland, which played in a regional league, the Timbers had a short-lived return in the late 80s, but it wasn’t until 2001 when the Timbers joined the United Soccer League and established themselves as a force to be reckoned with, that they were truly reborn and set onto the path to where we are today.
There is something you miss though when just listing chronological facts and that’s the integration a team, an idea, a culture has when it is interwoven into a city as a team comes and goes, as it is formed and built up and enters and exits leagues and divisions. Its fans are there watching and cheering all the while. And in many cases the fans are part the story, if not driving the story, especially when your fans become an army – the Timbers Army.
The Timbers Army was formed around the same time as Portland’s inclusion in the United Soccer League, and the army, who is anything but just fans, was integral in the lobbying to bring back the bid for the team to enter the MLS, which we did in 2011.
Today we are in a new heyday of Soccer City, USA. We are not just coming off a championship MLS season but over the past five years, the Timbers, Thorns and U23 development team have all brought trophies to the Rose City. We’re on what you call a roll. The Portland City Council has even declared January 20th as “2015 MLS Champion Portland Timbers Soccer City USA” day.
Today we not only get to celebrate our Portland Timbers, but also our Portland Thorns, which joined the newly created National Women’s Soccer League. The Thorn’s even went on to win the league’s inaugural season.
But those again are just facts that you can pull from any old Google search. What we care about here in Soccer City, USA is the feel, taste, touch and smell of the game. The orchestra of the Timbers Army singing “You Are My Sunshine” on a cool, misty night. The smell of a freshly cut log by Timber Joey after each goal. Soccer City is not a title, it’s a connection between fans and players, between team and legacy, between field and home. In Portland, soccer is not an 11-player game, and we don’t know how many it is; the city’s population keeps growing. #RCTID
(Below image courtesy of Historic Photo Archive)