LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Portland Timbers

Cascadia rivalry and committed
fans frame Timbers

A fan’s guide – the club from formation to today

MLS flagship of a progressive community surrounded by the greenery of Cascadia, Portland Timbers has a fan culture and a regional rivalry dating back to the NASL. Separated by 180 miles of Interstate through scenic countryside, Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders first clashed in 1975, the year that this bastion of counterculture was christened Soccer City.

Two years later, Portland’s venerable stadium welcomed the Sounders for Soccer Bowl ’77 but not for a derby showdown – this would be Pelé’s last competitive game, leading the New York Cosmos, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and all, to a 2-1 win over Seattle.

Given this heritage, it’s no surprise that local passion for the game carried over into the MLS era. Indeed, the Timbers sold out every home game for nearly a decade, from their MLS debut to the pandemic. Even so, it took 15 years for Portland to achieve MLS status.

The current iteration of Portland Timbers is the fourth. All have been based at what is known today as Providence Park, Civic Stadium to the NASL team and Pelé, and to the Timbers of 1989-90 (beforehand briefly named F.C. Portland). Timbers’ immediate namesake predecessors drew an average attendance of around 6,000 to what was PGE Park when competing in the United Soccer Leagues. In the season before MLS, 2010, gates averaged 10,700.

Providence Park/Arlo Voorhees

The $36 million conversion of the site, used for outdoor sport since 1893, built up in 1956 and graced by Elvis a year later, was essential to Timbers’ MLS bid. Soccer-specific and atmospheric with it, the then named Jeld-Wen Field welcomed a full house of 18,627 for the visit of Chicago Fire on April 14, 2011, when Timbers made their MLS debut.

It was a day that Merritt Paulson had been working toward for the last four years. Back in 2007, the son of a former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Paulson had acquired the franchise for the Timbers and the Portland Beavers baseball team from Abolghasseni ‘Abe’ Alizadeh, a Sacramento real estate developer later jailed for fraud. Selling the Beavers in 2010 and removing the baseball field from PGE Park – and thus baseball from Portland – Paulson put the spotlight on soccer.

Founded in 2009, Timbers brought in ex-Chelsea striker John Spencer as coach a year later, giving the Scot a year to prepare a squad for the big kickoff in 2011. Former New Zealand international Gavin Wilkinson, a former player and then coach of the Timbers’ USL side, became technical director. He was later made general manager of the Portland Thorns women’s team, founded in 2013 and sharing Jeld-Wen Field with the Timbers.

Providence Park/Arlo Voorhees

Selecting young Liberian-born Darlington Nagbe in the MLS SuperDraft, Timbers wisely handed captaincy to his fellow midfielder Jack Jewsbury, playmaker at Kansas City for several seasons. His performances in his first few games in Portland’s ponderosa and moss green elevated him to the MLS All-Star Game that July, coming on to play alongside David Beckham against Manchester United.

Difficult to beat at home, where Timbers won their first five games in their debut season, Portland proved less impressive on the road. Spencer made way for Caleb Porter, who had coached Darlington Nagbe at Akron Zips when the youngster was College Soccer Player of the Year. Another new arrival was Argentine international Diego Valeri, whose impact was immediate, beginning and converting a move before the quarter-hour mark in the first game of the 2013 campaign.

It proved to be a memorable one, Timbers winning the Western Conference, Valeri chosen as Newcomer of the Year. In a classic Cascadia matchup for the Western Conference Semifinals, a gorgeous finish from Nagbe settled the game in Seattle before an equally sublime touch from Valeri at a packed Jeld-Wen Field pushed Portland into a Conference Final with Real Salt Lake.

Despite an early opener from ex-RSL midfielder Will Johnson, Timbers missed the chance to make their first MLS Cup Final.

Facing the Crowd/Patrick Trickler

After a subdued campaign in 2014, Portland found two stars in Africans Fanendo Ali, a prolific Nigerian striker, and Adam Kwarasey, goalkeeper for Ghana against U.S. at the World Cup the previous summer. 

With the capacity slowly rising at the now renamed Providence Park, the atmosphere was electric for the 2015 Playoff Knockout with Sporting Kansas City. Tied at 2-2 after a late overtime equaliser from Timbers substitute Maxi Urruti, the teams were eventually separated by a penalty shootout that ran to 22 spot kicks. After Jewsbury and Valeri failed to convert, keeper Kwarasey coolly put away his, immediately turning round to save his counterpart’s effort. The shootout would enter soccer legend as the Double Post victory after a potentially match-winning kick for Kansas by Saad Abdul-Salaam hit both uprights and stayed out. A Timbers Army supporters’ bar at Providence Park was later named the Double Post.

Overcoming Vancouver in another Cascadia Playoff, then Dallas, Portland traveled to hot favorites Columbus for their first MLS Cup Final. Opportunism by Diego Valeri put the Timbers up on 27 seconds before Costa Rican Rodney Wallace, in his last game for Portland, made it 2-0 on seven minutes. Captained by former Aston Villa defender Liam Ridgewell, the Timbers held firm to claim their first MLS crown. Fittingly, Caleb Porter sent on Jack Jewsbury for a cameo appearance in stoppage time.

Named MVP after the game, Valeri later recommended the club sign fellow Argentine Sebastián Blanco, a teammate at Lanús in Buenos Aires when the youngsters won the Torneo Apertura title in 2007. Valeri then hit top form in 2018, scoring nine games straight and lifting Portland to the top of the Western Conference.

After a poor showing against Houston in the Semifinal, Caleb Porter made way for ex-New York Cosmos coach Giovanni Savarese. In yet another epic Cascadia derby in the Western Conference Semifinal, Portland’s Colombian striker Dairon Asprilla was the hero, converting the last penalty with the teams tied at 4-4 on aggregate.

There was more drama in the Western Conference Final when an evergreen Diego Valeri tucked away the winner against Sporting Kansas City on 92 minutes, the lead changing back and forth.

The final, played in Atlanta before 73,019 spectators, an MLS record, saw the home side triumph despite the experience of Valeri and Ridgewell in the Timbers side.

With 25,218 now filling expanded Providence Park, Portland was still playing to a full house in the pre-pandemic season of 2019, Valeri completing 16 assists to send the Timbers into the Playoffs, and a swift defeat at the hands of Real Salt Lake.

Providence Park/Patrick Trickler

With Sebastián Blanco and Steve Clark, the former Columbus goalkeeper at fault for Valeri’s early goal in the 2015 MLS Cup Final, picking up individual awards,

Portland won the MLS is Back trophy in the pandemic summer of 2020. Played under strict conditions behind closed doors at Disney World in Florida, the competition gave the winners a passage to the CONCACAF Champions League. Having failed to qualify from the group in two previous tournaments, Portland took advantage of the knockout format in 2021 to reach the Quarterfinals, América duly proving too strong at the Azteca.

By now there was a distinctly Latin look to Portland. While the stadium expansion had involved the building of the multi-deck East End modeled on Boca’s Bombonera in Buenos Aires, on the pitch, Colombian winger Yimmi Chará had joined his older brother Diego, long-established as Timbers’ defensive midfielder. 

Both would star in the 2020 Playoff game with Dallas, in which left-back Jorge Villafaña scored a late opener for the Timbers but missed the last penalty in the shootout. A star of Timbers’ triumphant 2015 team, the left-back had returned to the Portland fold in 2018 after being robbed at gunpoint in Mexico.

Tellingly empty as Dallas penalty takers slammed in their shots with no crowd pressure, Providence Park had always been Portland’s 12th man, full and raucous for every home game for nine whole seasons up to the pandemic. But as the political climate of the Trump era turned extreme, so the core supporters’ group, the Timbers Army took to waving anti-Nazi flags, earning the wrath of MLS management, which eventually climbed down in the dispute.

Then, in 2022, in the wake of allegations of inappropriate behaviour by former Portland Thorns women’s coach Paul Riley, the Army demanded the removal of long-term General Manager Gavin Wilkinson for his inaction. Portland owner Merritt Paulson was also urged to sell up, and the sour atmosphere led to lower crowds at Timbers games.

The scandal had broken just as Portland was heading to yet another MLS Cup Final, the third in six years. Held for the first time at Providence Park, the showdown with New York City was taken into overtime by Chilean striker Felipe Mora in the dying seconds, after his goalkeeper, Steve Clark, had made yet another error in an MLS final to allow NYFC to go ahead. Mora then missed his penalty in the shootout, as did the veteran Valeri, in his last competitive kick for the Timbers after 309 games and 100 goals.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

One of the great soccer stadiums in MLS, Providence Park has been gradually expanded by around a third, from its initial capacity of 18,627. Its initial capacity as a soccer-specific stadium that is, for several sports have been practiced here since the 1890s. Set in Goose Hollow, west of the city center, the original Multnomah Field was where the local athletic club of the same name convened.

Used mainly for college football and greyhound racing, Multnomah Field had grandstands constructed around it in 1926, significantly rebuilt 30 years later when baseball team the Portland Beavers moved in. Called Civic Stadium after the City of Portland bought it from the Multnomah Athletic Club in 1966, the venue hosted its first soccer game in 1975, suitably a Cascadia derby between Portland and Seattle in the NASL.

The event, and the raucous atmosphere surrounding it, led to Portland being nicknamed Soccer City, its initials written across the seats of the upper deck of the home East End nearly half a century later.

Pelé played his last competitive game here for New York Cosmos in Soccer Bowl ’77, the opponents Seattle. In 1985, USMNT played its first international in Portland, a low-key draw against Canada before 4,000 people, two days after a friendly in Vancouver.

One of eight venues used for the 1999 Women’s World Cup – impressive crowds of around 20,000 watched wins by Germany, North Korea, Russia and China in double-headers – the stadium reprised its hosting duties for the 2003 tournament, including both Semifinals. Eventual winners Germany caused a huge upset, beating the U.S. 3-0 in front of 27,623 spectators.

By then called PGE Park, the stadium was the home of Portland Timbers’ immediate predecessors of the same name, attracting crowds of between 5,000 and 10,000 for games in the second tier of the American soccer pyramid. For MLS, a major transformation was needed, some $36 million’s worth. Expanded grandstands and a vast video screen now surrounded an artificial pitch, but one element needed little construction: The Timbers Army in Section 107, the Woodshed, of the North End had developed out of Cascade Rangers, vociferously following the previous iteration of the Portland Timbers through the early 2000s.

In fact, it was their considerable support that had helped convince MLS to offer Portland a franchise in the first place. From the big kickoff in 2011, through shootout triumphs and Cascadia derby madness until the pandemic, the later named Providence Park had provided MLS with the definitive soccer experience.

Gradual increments in capacity did little to lessen the club’s season ticket waitlist. The next major renovation came before the 2019 season, the East End now comprising three decks and pushing the number of seats to 25,218.

The Timbers Army occupies sections 201-208 and 101-108 below, two-thirds of the North End parallel to Morrison St.. These seats are general admission and the cheapest on offer, so it’s a case of first come, first served – the Timbers Army issues wristbands for the many happy to stand in line long enough, access via Gate E. 

At the opposite end, the Southern Front occupies the pitch-level deck running below the main video board. Above, behind glass, sit members of the Multnomah Athletic Club. The East End now offers a range of seating along the sideline, rising up for three tiers. Away supporters are allocated section 123 in the southwest corner, plus section 122 if Seattle or Vancouver are in town.

Transportation

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

Not only is Providence Park downtown, it’s also on the same Red Line of the MAX Light Rail network as Portland International Airport ($2.50 single fare valid 2.5hrs, every 15mins, overall journey time 45mins), via the Rose Quarter Transit Center. A Day Pass is $5. Providence Park station is also on the Blue Line, which follows the same route through the city center every 15mins. Extra services are added on match days. The last airport-bound Red Line service calls leaves Providence Park at 11.09pm.

Parking is extremely limited around Providence Park, especially on game days. Street parking is available, as well SmartPark garages ($1.80-$2/hr or $5 all day on weekends).

Free cycle parking is set up on match days where SW Morrison Street meets SW 18th Avenue, supervised by stadium staff.

Ticketing

When, where, how, and how much

Nearly all Timbers games are sell-outs but general admission is always available – meaning you should get your tickets early. The Providence Park Box Office opens 3hrs before kickoff at Gate D, where SW Morrison Street meets SW 18th Avenue.

For information, contact 503-553-5555 or email ticketsales@timbers.com.

Tickets are also sold online through SeatGeek.

General Admission in the North End – where everyone will be standing and singing – starts at $36 for a less attractive MLS fixture and $56 for a more glamorous one. A seat in the South Deck is $54/$60, again depending on the opposition, and the west sideline $42-$92. A spot in the East Vista starts from $65, while the priciest seats in Tanner Ridge below run from $165 to $325, and up to $525 for the derby with Seattle.

Away fans pay $53-$62 to sit in section 123.

For a spot in or near Timbers Army section 107, TA members hand out 600 wristbands for each game from 2hrs before kickoff, and it’s a case of getting there as early as possible to secure yours. PTFC Line Culture runs a Twitter feed with the latest details.

Merchandise

Jerseys, souvenirs, and all kinds of gear

The PTFC Authentics Store (Mon-Sat 11am-5pm, match days) is on the northwest corner of the stadium, where SW Morrison Street meets SW 20th Avenue. 

For 2023, Portland has gone plaid, with home jerseys ($159.99) featuring tartan touches as well as gold trim. Note the star above the badge, in honor of 2015.

Tailgating

Enjoy the full matchday experience

No parking lots, no tailgating. Portland is very much a bar scene, with literally dozens of options to choose from. See below Where to drink.

Where to Drink

Matchday beers at the stadium and downtown

Few other stadiums in MLS are surrounded by as many bars as Portland’s Providence Park. Many showcase the 70+ local brews produced in Portland, aka Beervana, America’s craft-beer capital, making your Timbers visit a memorable one despite all your efforts to the contrary.  

The streets parallel to the home North End reap the richest rewards where pre-match barhopping is concerned. On NW Glisan Street, McMenamins Blue Moon Tavern & Grill belies its arty décor with classic sports bar accoutrements such as plentiful pool tables, big-screen action and tap options from Blackberry Cider to Electric Orange Weizen wheat beer. North-West style pub fare also features, with discounts on food and drink during happy hours. A history of the place, from wine dealers to gambling den to bikers’ hangout, makes for fascinating reading.

A block or so nearer the stadium at 210 NW 21st Avenue, Kells Brewery adds an Irish touch to proceedings, with an entire library of whiskeys to choose from as you watch the action. In a triangular building where W Burnside meets SW Morrison, the Kingston Sports Bar ticks most boxes, including proximity to the stadium.

Further along W Burnside, the Wildwood Saloon gets the prematch party going with Jell-O shots and killer cocktails. Where W Burnside meets SW 19th Avenue, the Civic Taproom takes its name seriously, with 22 taps pouring craft beer, cider and wine as regulars gawp at sports action on five flat-screen TVs. Note the local history depicted on the archive photos decorating the walls, color provided by rows of bright soccer scarves.  

A Greek gyros place back in the NASL days, the Marathon Taverna is now a huge sports bar, with as many HD screens as beer taps, the 20 draft options complemented by cocktails and daily specials. The food’s still Hellenic, the Greek platter a wise choice. Across the street, the Commodore Lounge provides the essentials – craft beer, TV sports, pool and pinball – at reasonable prices.

On the south side of the stadium, the Leaky Roof gastropub on SW Jefferson Street has been serving food since 1947, Caint, Ceol agus Ól as the sign says, ‘Talk, Music and Drink’. The bar menu is handy for a quality fill before the game. 

Further along SW Jefferson Street, the Goose Hollow Inn has been in the same family since the recently departed Bud Clark opened this cozy tavern in 1967. A colorful local character, Clark was also city mayor between 1985 and 1992, promoting mass transit, helping the homeless and raising the profile of Goose Hollow.

A haven for fans of Buffalo Bills, hence the name, the Cheerful Bullpen gets mobbed on match days at Providence Park immediately opposite, its sports paraphernalia (including soccer scarves) and multiple screens the perfect backdrop to the jovial imbibing of Modelo, Breakside and Widmer Hefeweizen.

Once you’re inside Providence Park, you’ll find outlets for all kinds of delights, from street tacos at the Touchline Taquería to Dr Kombucha organic tea. Don’t miss the Double Post Bar behind section 109, serving a dozen craft beers from 48 taps to the ever-thirsty Timbers Army. Many would have been here for the epic postseason game with Sporting Kansas City in 2015, when a science-defying penalty by SKC’s Saad Abdul-Salaam hit both Portland posts and stayed out, allowing Timbers to stay in the shootout and go on to win their only MLS Cup.

Of the pubs in town, the Independent Sports Bar & Grill at 225 SW Broadway #100 is lined with 34 screens and 20 beer taps. Happy hours weekdays 4pm-6pm attract the postwork crowd. Across the river in East Portland, GOL PDX at 1739 SE Hawthorne Blvd proved a huge hit during the 2022 World Cup and retains its European feel.

timeline

Following the local soccer scene

1893 Multnomah Field opens for sport and recreation.

1956 Multnomah Stadium welcomes the Portland Beavers baseball team. Venue named Civic Stadium in 1966.

1975 Portland Timbers NASL team founded, based at Civic Stadium, bringing top soccer stars to Portland. Early rivalry established with Seattle Sounders.

1977 Pelé plays the last competitive of his career at Civic Stadium for Soccer Bowl ’77 against Seattle.

1982 Portland Timbers NASL team folds.

1985 First soccer international at Civic Stadium, U.S.-Canada friendly. Barely 4,000 in attendance.

1985 Second iteration of Portland Timbers, initially called F. C. Portland. Short seasons in the mainly semi-pro Western Alliance. Changes name to Portland Timbers for 1989-90 in the Western Soccer League and more substantial American Professional Soccer League (APSL). Based at Civic Stadium.

1997 World Cup qualifying game at Civic Stadium. More than 27,000 watch U.S. beat Costa Rica 1-0. Tab Ramos scores the only goal on 79 minutes.

1999 Civic Stadium co-hosts Women’s World Cup, staging four group matches before crowds around 20,000.

2001 Complete renovation of Civic Stadium, Portland General Electric the new sponsors. Venue now called PGE Park.

2001 A new professional Portland Timbers formed, playing in the second tier A-League/USL-1/D2 Pro of the U.S. soccer pyramid. Crowds of 5,000-10,000 gather at PGE Park to see players such as Mexican striker Byron Álvarez and later Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill. Lively fan culture generates around the team, the Cascade Rangers, forerunners of today’s Timbers Army.

2003 PGE Park co-hosts Women’s World Cup, including two quarterfinals and both semifinals. Germany beats USWNT in front of 27,623.

2009 MLS grants expansion berth to Portland, due to be taken up in 2011.

2011 Huge renovation and conversion of the stadium, now renamed Jeld-Wen Field, now soccer-specific at the expense of baseball.

2011 Portland Timbers enters MLS.

2013 Portland Thorns women’s team founded, also plays at Jeld-Wen Field.

2014 Stadium renamed Providence Park after new sponsors. MLS All-Star Game staged there, in which the hosts beat Bayern Munich 2-1. MLS team stars Thierry Henry, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. Members of Germany’s recently crowned World-Cup winning team come on after halftime.

2015 Portland Timbers wins MLS Cup.

2019 Further renovation of Providence Park raises capacity to 25,218.

2021 Providence Park stages MLS Cup Final but Timbers fails to take advantage, losing to New York City on penalties.