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Soccer City U.S.A. Now Has An MLS Franchise

Portland has scored a Major League Soccer franchise. This was the announcement this morning, from MLS commissioner, Don Garber:

Don Garber: “… Portland will be the 18th team in Major League Soccer…” < applause >

Garber appeared in Portland before hundreds of members of the Timbers’ Army - the irreverent fanatics of Portland’s soccer team. As Rob Manning reports, today’s announcement is a vote of confidence that the city, and the team’s owner, can come up with the money to make the team a reality.

If there were doubts about bringing Major League Soccer to Oregon, they were drowned out at this morning’s announcement at the downtown Hilton:

One voice: “We are the Timbers!”
Room: “We are the Timbers!!!”
One voice: “The mighty, mighty Timbers!”
Room: “The mighty, mighty Timbers!!!”

Commissioner Don Garber called the Timbers’ Army “overwhelming.”  He says the Timbers are making the jump from the minors to the majors thanks to the fans, the owner, city leaders - and Portland’s legendary soccer status.

Don Garber: “If it wasn’t for Soccer City USA, we wouldn’t be here, and how could you have a city named Soccer City, and not have a professional soccer team at the highest level?” < applause >

The celebration was a long time coming for Rick Torchia. He’s one of the ten founding members of the Timbers’ Army.

Rick Torchia: “It means everything to me, anyway, as passionate a fan as I am. I spent six years in Germany. I was passionate over there for the FC Kaiserslautern. And to have it here now, to have this type of level of soccer here - like they said, it needs to get a little better, we’re not there, in terms of the rest of the world - but we’re going that way.”

Before the euphoria, though, Portland had to beat out bids from St. Louis and Ottawa, Canada.

Commissioner Don Garber says he looked closely at Portland’s incomplete funding package to renovate PGE Park for the Timbers, and to build a new baseball stadium for the Beavers. But he says he felt confident a deal was coming, after talking to city commissioner Randy Leonard, Portland Mayor Sam Adams, and Timbers owner, Merritt Paulson.

Don Garber: “If that doesn’t happen, and if they can’t get through that, then we can’t grant the team. So, all of us involved in this process are confident they’ll be able to get through that. You know, we’ve been through this before - we didn’t have the final approval in Philadelphia, we didn’t have the approvals in Dallas and Chicago, this isn’t new to us.” 

It’s not certain where the city plans to find $15 million dollars still needed to pay for the stadium construction. Mayor Sam Adams says the hole will get filled without harm to city services.

Sam Adams: “We went into the council meeting with only one funding option for that last 15 million, and we left with being able to keep that on the table, but being able to look at all other funding options, as well. We’re going to stick to our principles of not putting our general funds at risk, and not raiding existing funds for existing services.”

Merritt Paulson: “Everybody’s asking about the missing dollars, the 15 million - - those aren’t missing dollars.”

That’s Timbers’ owner, Merritt Paulson.

Merritt Paulson: “We’re going to deal with that. We’ve got to get the 11 million dollars from the state and others, and we’ll do that.”

Paulson’s family has put up tens of million of dollars, and he is on the hook to raise another $11 million.  He’s looking for help in Salem to raise some of it.

But that’s all work for another day. Today, soccer supporters were too busy cheering the league’s decision.

Andrew Nebels brought his three children down from Washington to hear the announcement. His daughters, Lauren and Elise are eight and half, and ten, and they play on a Timbers’ youth team. They got their pictures taken with Mayor Adams and the soccer commissioner.

Lauren Nebels: “We were really excited that we got an MLS team.”
Elise Nebels: “I think it was a really big thing. I was quite excited to hear that Portland was an MLS team, because that tells a lot of people that we are also a soccer city.”

The Timbers will be one of three Northwest teams in Major League Soccer. Seattle already has an MLS franchise and the team from Vancouver, B-C will be brand-new in two years, just like Portland. That promises a three-way rivalry that may have fans traveling the I-5 corridor to cheer on their teams.

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