MLS teams have built soccer-specific stadiums throughout America. They serve as anchors for a sport that seemed destined to never take root in the United States. Since the league began, 16 cities have built new stadiums, with another under construction in St. Paul and three more planned elsewhere.
All of these stadiums follow a similar blueprint: something in the neighborhood of 20,000 seats, a handful of premium seats and luxury boxes in prime locations, all of the seats designed for comfort and gorgeous views of the field.
Then there is Portland. Not like the sparkling new palaces designed just for soccer in the United States, its uniqueness makes it the best stadium in MLS.
Now called Providence Park, it was Civic Stadium, or Multnomah Stadium, in its previous lifetimes. The edifice dates back to the 1920s, when the Multnomah Athletic Club built it to serve as a centerpiece for the club’s track and field teams.
Since then, it’s hosted all manner of sporting events, from football to baseball to soccer.
Walk around the perimeter of the stadium, or through its concourses, and it looks like the minor league baseball stadium that it used to be. The concourses don’t have enough space. The entryways are narrow. The bench seats are aged and oddly sticky.
Close your eyes and you can almost imagine being at the dog-track races that the stadium once held. Open them, however, and you will see the Timbers faithful filling the stadium to the wooden rafters that reflect — and amplify — the crowd noise.
My first Providence Park experience was three weeks ago, when expansion team Los Angeles FC made its first visit. Portland scored early in the second half, off a rebound, to take a 1-0 lead. LAFC tied the match with a wonderful Carlos Vela strike with 20 minutes left. Then, with 10 minutes to play, Timbers forward Samuel Armenteros picked up the ball in his own half, skittered through the LAFC defense on a counterattack, and lashed a powerful strike into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
There is a sound that I have occasionally heard on television when a goal is scored. Not so much a shout or a scream but a guttural, collective, bellowing roar. The sound of thousands of people leaping to their feet and simultaneously shouting the same word: “GOAL!”
I have searched for that sound across America and on both sides of the Atlantic, that irrepressible, joyous bellow, the ultimate expression of soccer celebration. For the first time in my life I heard it in person. It’s the roar that clinches the Providence Park experience, transcending beautiful stadium designs or luxury seating or new finishes.
That roar will stick with me. Even though I don’t care about the Timbers, when I looked down at the time, I discovered I had goose bumps.
• I genuinely don’t understand what U.S. Soccer is doing with regard to the National Women’s Soccer League, which has games scheduled Saturday and Sunday. There is an international window that starts Monday, during which club teams are required to release players for national team training and games. U.S. Soccer scheduled two friendly matches against China for this period, which is fine. It also decided to require players to join the national team last Thursday, which is not. Why even have an NWSL if U.S. Soccer is going to pull out its players for no reason?
• Fulham is coming back to the Premier League next season, earning promotion through the playoffs. The Cottagers have an inordinate number of American fans, thanks to a succession of American players — Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey and Carlos Bocanegra chief among them — who have played in West London. Defender Tim Ream is the nation’s current Fulham representative.
• Zinedine Zidane stepped down as Real Madrid coach shortly after leading the Spanish giants to their third consecutive Champions League title. In 2½ years, Zidane lifted the European Cup three times and won La Liga once, burnishing his legacy at Real Madrid after his amazing playing career there.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Friendly: U.S. men’s team at Ireland, 2 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2. The USA has gone with a youth movement for this round of friendlies. In a 3-0 victory against Bolivia, 18-year-olds Josh Sargent and Tim Weah both scored their first national team goals. Dare we say there is optimism about the future?
MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Portland, 4 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2. The Galaxy have lost five of seven. Portland has won six consecutive matches, shooting up the standings as MLS’s hottest team. It never feels right to say that the star-studded Galaxy squad is an underdog. But against Portland, at Providence Park, the Timbers are a big favorite.
Friendly: Scotland at Mexico, 7 p.m. Saturday, FS1/ Univision. The rest of the soccer world is gearing up for the World Cup, which starts in less than two weeks. Whether you cheer for Mexico or not, with no USA for the American media to cover you’ll be hearing a lot about “El Tri” in Russia over the summer.
Friendly: Brazil vs. Croatia, 9 a.m. Sunday, beIN Sports. Brazil, you know — one of the best teams in international soccer. Croatia can boast some of the world’s best players — midfielders Luka Modric (Real Madrid) and Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), and forward Mario Mandzukic (Juventus). Both teams are headed to the World Cup.