PORTLAND, Ore. – Its residents have been saying it for years: Portland is Soccer City, USA.
Now they’ve got even more ammunition to add to that argument with Wednesday’s announcement that the AT&T MLS All-Star Game would be coming to the Rose City in 2014. It will be the first time the All-Star Game is held in a Pacific Northwest city.
“It’s part of our culture, it’s part of our community and that’s why this is going to be such a great fit for this all-star game and for future all-star games here in a city that loves soccer,” Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said during a press conference at JELD-WEN Field. “I’m very excited about this. This partnership is very strong.”
It was clear that the announcement stemmed directly from the city’s passion for the Portland Timbers since they joined the league in 2011.
The Timbers have sold out every MLS league match, a string of 42 consecutive sellouts. The stadium also hosted a sellout crowd for the US national team’s opening match in the CONACAF Gold Cup on Tuesday night, the first time the USMNT has played in the Rose City since 1998.
MLS commissioner Don Garber said the league could have easily picked a venue to sell more seats – JELD-WEN’s capacity is just more than 20,000 – but another city would be hard-pressed to match Portland’s passion.
“This is one of the great examples of a successful pro sports expansion team launch in history,” Garber said. “From a fan prospective and the overall connectivity with the community prospective and the credibility prospective, the team has operated very well. And that’s not an easy thing, and the entire soccer community looks at it.”
It’s a model that has exceeded all expectations.
“It has over-delivered fairly dramatically on our expectations,” Garber said. “Merritt [Paulson, Timbers owner and president] was very bullish on this city and very bullish on the soccer passion that existed here.”
Paulson said bringing the MLS All-Star Game to Portland is another step in his vision for building Portland’s brand as the nation’s soccer capital. During the press conference, he recounted back to his promise to city leadership that the Timbers would bring the city international renown.
“It’s not hyperbole to look at where we are today and say that we’ve delivered on that and then some,” Paulson said. “We’ve got something really, really special here. And it’s not just about the Timbers with events like we had here last night in the Gold Cup game and certainly this really, really special announcement today.”
He said it’s not lost on the organization that the mid-summer game will be the first major professional sports all-star game to be held in Portland. The city’s other major pro team, the Trail Blazers, was founded in 1970, won an NBA title in 1977 and the league has yet to bring its all-star game to town.
“That’s big,” Paulson said. “And the eyes of the country and the world will be squarely on Soccer City USA in July of next year. We’re going to show them an all-star game like they’ve never seen before. We’re going to do some really interesting things and some new things.”
All things any mayor would be happy to hear.
“It’s huge from a business impact,” Hales said. “And I think you could sense that on the streets last night with the visitors who were here for that game. This is driving a big part of our visitor economy here in Portland.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.