Paulson and Paulson Jr. had two years to prepare for MLS2PDX. The franchise was awarded in March of 2009 and it wasn't until April 2011 that the first home match was played. And Merritt the younger, not one to site idly by got to raising the awareness of Timbers in MLS. Lofty hopes and dreams were discussed. Professionals offered tempered assessments of how popular this team would be even estimating only 14,000 in average attendance (a link exists somewhere within the City of Portland website). We knew there was a following within the Timbers Army and general excitement around the team even at the USL level. But what impact would there be for a mid-to-small-market city outside MLS? There was indication something good was going to happen. World renowned good was not on my radar.
Remember this ad?
"Barcelona. Milan. Liverpool. Madrid. Portland. Finally we're on the world's pitch."
It was a curious statement. MLS was and still is a fledgling league playing the most popular sport in the world. Equating the upgrade to MLS as in line with the likes of teams from Madrid or Liverpool is foolish. And getting a seat at the adult table of world soccer is comforting to imagine. It seemed like a statement projecting lofty dreams of being among the best rather than sharing the same competition rules with the best. "Cool" I thought, but incredulous it would ever happen.
Fast forward a few years.
The US Men's national team finally returned to Portland for a Gold Cup match thanks to CONCACAF, with no thanks to USSF. The Women's team however has had no problem swinging through Portland more than once, thanks to the other half of USSF. The most recent success with the Thorns has done more to solidify the idea women's soccer is welcome here (as if Portlanders didn't already know it).
A few friendlies were conducted. Ajax showed up. So did AIK for a preseason tournament twice. Others that sauntered through: Valencia, Monarcas Morelia, Independiente, Club America, and oddly, Manchester City at U of P in 2010.
Due to a scheduling quirk, CONCACAF took their sweet time to change the allocation of teams in this region's Champions League. Portland IN. Salt Lake OUT. Teams ranging from Mexico's Cruz Azul, Honduras' Olimpia, Jamaica's Joe Public, and Panama's Arabe Unido will possibly play in Portland. Heck, Vancouver Whitecaps may show up for a regional rivalry match for greater regional supremacy.
Lastly, a few weeks ago the long-rumored All-Star Game opponent of FC Bayern was finally announced. The world's best is coming to Portland. In case you may have missed it, FC Bayern just won the FIFA Club World Cup. They've proven themselves to be just that: The Best. They also posted this video:
I didn't think in 2009 I would be hearing "Rose City" from his lips. Which brings me full circle to the 2009 advertisement. The game played by the world has certainly come through Portland recently and will in the immediate future. Here's to it happening for a long time to come.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!