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Portland proudly Soccer City, USA once again

Expansion Timbers a box office success

PORTLAND – The Portland Timbers can take pride in rekindling Soccer City, USA.

Sure, the team and its supporters are disappointed they finished out of the Major League Soccer playoffs. But otherwise it was a resoundingly successful season for the expansion club, and the fans deserve a lot of the credit.

The Timbers Army immediately established itself as one of the league’s most fervent supporters groups with a stirring rendition of the national anthem at the team’s home opener before a nationwide television audience. It reinforced that impression with non-stop songs and chants, inspired “tifo” fan displays and strong representation at away games.

“They’re our heart and soul,” Timbers owner Merritt Paulson said about the fans. “You know the credit card commercial where they say ‘Priceless?’ They’re priceless.”

Paulson was smart in reaching out to the Timbers Army, which had long been loyal to the team. He also embraced the history of the club, which dates to the old North American Soccer League. The success of the NASL Timbers in their inaugural season in 1975 produced the Soccer City, USA nickname.

An edgy advertising campaign that included real fans wielding logging implements helped make the Timbers the hottest ticket in town. Portland sold out all of its 17 home matches.

The team recently announced a 97 percent renewal rate for season tickets, and that the waiting list for 2012 season tickets had surpassed 5,000 fans. Eighty percent of the seats at Jeld-Wen will remain at the same price next season.

On the pitch, Portland was competitive under coach John Spencer, finishing 11-14-9.

Portland’s 11 victories tied it with the 2006 Houston Dynamo for fourth on the list of wins for an expansion team. The Timbers were 9-5-3 at home 7-6-4 against Western opponents.

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