PORTLAND — To Merritt Paulson, no American city rivals Portland’s soccer passion.
For one week next summer, there will be no doubt about Portland’s place in Major League Soccer.
The league announced Wednesday that Jeld-Wen Field will be the site for the 2014 MLS All-Star Game. The date of the game will be announced later, but MLS commissioner Don Garber said it will come sometime after the World Cup, which ends on July 13, 2014.
As has been the case since 2003, the game will match the MLS All-Stars against a big-name club from another country. The opponent has not been determined. Both Garber and Paulson declined during a Wednesday press conference to name potential teams.
In what has become MLS tradition, Timbers coach Caleb Porter will coach the 2014 MLS All-Star team.
Ticket details will be announced later, Paulson said. The Timbers do plan to first make tickets available to Timbers and Thorns FC season ticket holders, those on the waiting list for Timbers season tickets, and sponsors before they go on sale to the public. The number of tickets available to fans is also yet to be determined, Garber said.
The 2013 MLS All-Star Game takes place July 31 in Kansas City, Kan. The MLS will take on Italy’s AS Roma.
MLS is leaving revenue on the table by playing in a Portland venue that holds slightly more than 20,000 fans. But the commissioner said the obligation to repay supporters and sponsors is more important than extra revenue.
“We accept the fact that some of our facilities are smaller. It’s part of us supporting our teams and the communities that helped us build the venues,” Garber said. “We leave some (money) on the plate, but we’re more than happy to do so.”
The commissioner also said Jeld-Wen Field’s artificial turf was not an issue in considering Portland for an all-star game. The field has been approved by FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, for top competitions. On Tuesday, the United States men’s national team played a Gold Cup match there.
Paulson said he hasn’t ruled out changing to a grass surface in the future, but that the Timbers will never have a grass field rolled over the top of the artificial surface as has been done at other venues for special events.
“If I could do grass, I’d do grass,” Paulson said, noting that the facility is also used for football. “There’s stigma around artificial surface and it’s something that we’re continually assessing. Never say never.”
Garber raved about the impact that Paulson and his franchise have made on MLS.
The Portland market, Garber said, “has over-delivered, fairly dramatically, on our expectations.”
The commissioner noted that the Timbers operation was one of only two MLS teams the owners of England’s Manchester City visited before investing in the expansion New York City franchise, which will join MLS in 2015 or later.
Garber said the Timbers’ story transcends soccer.
“This is one of the great examples of a successful pro sports expansion team launch in history,” he said.
In terms of history, the MLS Soccer game won’t be the biggest soccer event held in Portland. A crowd of more than 35,000 attended Soccer Bowl ’78 at the venue then called Civic Stadium. That North American Soccer League championship game was the final competitive match for Pele.
It was that kind of support that first put Portland on the map as Soccer City, USA. That history was forgotten until Paulson’s passion landed Portland in Major League Soccer. The team has sold out every regular-season match it has played since debuting in 2011.
“We’re Soccer City, USA. I don’t understand why that debate even happens,” Paulson said with a smile. “I look forward to any event to showcase why we are Soccer City, USA.”