Sounders FC get a rival -- Portland awarded MLS franchise

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber made it official Friday at 10 a.m. in Portland, saying he was revealing the "best kept secret" in sports when he said the Rose City would get the latest MLS franchise.

Soccer fans who had gathered at the Portland Hilton hotel erupted in loud cheers when Garber made the official pronouncement.

The team will begin MLS play in 2011 in an improved, approximately 20,000-seat PGE Park. The team owner, Merritt Paulson, also announced that the new MLS team will keep the storied Portland Timbers name.

"Today is a historic day for Soccer City, USA, and it is a big win for our economy, our community, and soccer fans everywhere," Paulson said.

Paulson said the team will be called the Portland Timbers in honor of the popular minor-league team that has played in Portland since the 1970s. He added he looked forward to the resumption of the long-standing rivalry among the Timbers, Seattle and Vancouver.

Seattle opened its initial MLS season Thursday night at Qwest Field with a rousing 3-0 win over the New York Red Bulls, and Vancouver was awarded the MLS' 17th team on Wednesday, also to begin play in 2011. The geographic rivalry among the three teams dates back to the North American Soccer League (NASL) in the 1970s.

"This vision turned to reality is great not only for the Timbers, but for top-tier professional soccer in the entire region," Paulson said. "One game into its MLS history, Seattle has enjoyed phenomenal success already, and we were very pleased to see Vancouver receive the league's 17th team on Wednesday. Without a doubt, the Pacific Northwest is a hotbed for professional soccer, and, most importantly, we are excited for our fans."

Portland city officials last week approved a financing deal that would renovate PGE Park for soccer and build a new ballpark for the Triple-A Portland Beavers baseball team. But the city still must come up with a plan to raise $15 million of the $89 million needed for the project.

"Portland is a very passionate soccer town. The Paulson family is very committed to the sport. Merritt Paulson is kind of a new breed of owner for us. He's young, very committed to making this his career," Garber said. "There's great history there and great proximity to other clubs. You put those things together and the city is very committed. ... It's just a good formula."

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