Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Portland Stakes its Claim as Soccer City USA

19,123 Fans Watching the Portland Thorns in Action
Portland, Oregon, the quirky city in the Pacific Northwest featured lovingly on IFC's Portlandia, has made it known to the world that it should be prime candidate for Soccer City USA. The amount of buzz they generated in the lead up to the MLS All Stars vs Bayern Munich match has been outstanding. It delivered as well thanks to a raucous and appreciative crowd. Though it will be remembered for Pep Guardiola not shaking Caleb Porter's hand after being a bit angry with a rough challenge in a friendly. The Portland Timbers are one of the best run franchises in Major League Soccer (MLS), with a waiting list for tickets as games are routinely sold out. Now, Seattle does average 40,000 fans per game at CenturyLink Field, which is more than the 20,000 that the Timbers home (Providence Park) holds, otherwise Portland would have at least 30,000 per game and probably more if there were more seats. Seattle has certainly done a fantastic job, but you just have to love Portland. Its a smaller city than Seattle, and not nearly as high profile.

There really is another big reason for Portland getting an advantage over Seattle...their support of their National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) team, the Portland Thorns FC. Sunday night on ESPN 2, the defending champs were in a must win situation against the Houston Dash and managed to pull off the win. This was in front of 19,123 fans, an NWSL record. This isn't just some fluke though, they routinely get around 14,000 fans to games, and have reached 10,000 season ticket holders, which is a huge number for a women's team anywhere in the world. It's more than some MLS, NHL, MLB and NBA teams have. They also were profitable in their very first year, a rarity for any new sports franchise. The Thorns feature Alex Morgan (USA), Christine Sinclair (Canada), Nadine Angerer (Germany), Tobin Heath (USA) and Vero Boquete (Spain) among others. But even players who aren't big International stars have become fan favorites.

The current NWSL leaders, Seattle Reign FC, have done well by boosting their attendance above 2013 numbers to see the likes of Hope Solo (USA), Nahomi Kawasumi (Japan), Sydney Leroux (USA), Megan Rapinoe (USA), Jess Fishlock (Wales) & Kim Little (Scotland). They do have a ways to go before catching Portland in attendance, but are building a strong fanbase. Granted, they aren't affiliated with the MLS owned Sounders and the Thorns are owned by the Timbers. However, you can just feel that even if the Thorns were not owned by the Timbers, they would still be pulling in big attendance numbers. The Thorns simply have one of the best stadium atmospheres in all of sports. Fans bring creative signs and tifos led by the Rose City Riveters supporters group. They constantly chant and cheer until the end of the match, light up flares to send up red smoke when the Thorns score and cheer on their team even in a loss. One can hope they rub off on the rest of the NWSL.

The Pacific Northwest rivals of Portland & Seattle have given rise to enthusiastic & involved soccer fans, and it is now starting to spread elsewhere.

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