MLS Expansion: Portland?

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As part of an occasional series of posts on MLS expansion contenders, I thought it worth taking a look at Portland’s efforts to join the League in 2011.  The bid centers on a proposal to upgrade PGE Park, the home of a minor league baseball team and the Portland Timbers of the USL.  According to the folks at mlsportland.com, a $40 million upgrade will take PGE to MLS standards.

Interestingly, the driving force behind the Portland bid is Merritt Paulson, son of the former Secretary of the Treasury.  Paulson is seeking $85 million in public money to support the bid, renovate the stadium and construct infrastructure.  Given the economic climate, and his father’s prominent role in the bailout, there is no small irony in Paulson’s leading the charge for a raft of public money.

Soccer has been successful in the City of Roses at the USL level and as a “one sport town” Portland is an attractive market.  This is especially so, when that one sport is the NBA (with only a small amount of schedule overlap).  Using Columbus as a model, there is good reason to believe that a Portland franchise backed by big money and a solid stadium, can succeed.

The bid was recently rocked by scandal, when Portland mayor Sam Adams, a strong proponent of the bid, admitted to an inappropriate relationship with a teenage female.  With franchise announcements expected in about a month, it will be interesting to see whether the Mayor’s problems will drag down Paulson’s efforts.  Portland has long been a soccer hotbed, and with Seattle entering the League in 2009, there is great potential for a natural rivalry.

I think Portland is a great fit.  I’ve long believed that medium markets like Columbus, Salt Lake City and San Jose are perfect locations for MLS franchises. Yes you need the big cities, but in New York and Boston, MLS is barely a blip on the sports landscape.  In smaller cities, the teams are a focus of local medial and a source of community pride.

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