PORTLAND, Ore. – It was a moment years in the making when the Portland Timbers took the field on Saturday night.
The last few months must have felt like years to the Timbers, as construction on the expanded and refurbished Providence Park forced the team to play their first 12 games on the road to open the season, leading to an incredible buildup – throughout both the organization and the city – for their 2019 home opener, vs. LAFC.
“The renovation is spectacular,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber, on hand for the Providence Park reopening. “The place is rocking as it always is, only even louder with more fans showing their passion for the team.”
The $85 million dollar project that added about 4,000 new seats and a towering new presence on the east side of the stadium was formally unveiled to “Soccer City USA” when the Supporters’ Shield leaders rolled into town intent on spoiling the fun.
“We know it’s a big day for them,” said LAFC forward Carlos Vela. “It was a party, and so we said ‘let’s go and enjoy the party,’ and that’s why we came out and played the way we did.”
The visitors pressed Portland early, seizing a 2-0 halftime lead. But the Timbers fought back valiantly and after a Brian Fernandez bicycle-kick goal in the 85th minute that cut the deficit to the eventual 3-2 final score, the added energy of the reborn stadium gave fans the hope that they could push the team forward to add to the list of magical moments that the corner of SW 18th & Morrison St has seen over the years.
“You feel the difference of those extra 4,000, not only because they’re loud, but the presence of the building that feels on top of you is fantastic,” said Timbers coach Gio Saverese.
While the loss was a tough way to open their backloaded slate of home games, the Timbers know that with the new wall of support they have towering over the pitch, there are happier times ahead for the defending Western Conference champions.
“The connection with our supporters was great as always,” said Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri. “We’ll have a lot of games at home and this first one was a great atmosphere.”
Though LAFC ultimately took three important road points, the atmosphere of the new park left an impression on a team with their own gorgeous home venue and amazing fan support.
“Portland is a good team and the fans are great,” said Latif Blessing. “The first time I saw the stadium was amazing, but we had to find a way to win. It was loud and we couldn’t hear much that was going on, but I’d like to thank the players and everyone for winning this game.”