The recent start of 2013 Major League Soccer season makes me want to travel. I live in Phoenix, where there’s no MLS team. Right now, we only have Phoenix FC Wolves, a USL Professional Division team in its first season of existence. Soccer-hungry people in non-MLS cities have to travel to an MLS city for a look at the top league. Here are three cities where you’re sure to get a real welcome to MLS action.
In 2012, I watched Portland Timbers FC play a friendly (aka exhibition) against Amsterdam Ajax at Jeld-Wen Field. I arrived 30 minutes before kickoff, and entire sections of the stadium were already singing, chanting and waving flags. Ajax dominated the match, but the Timbers fans stayed behind their team until the final whistle.
The hard-core supporters’ club, Timbers Army, puts the team’s best foot forward for visitors. The team is new to MLS, but had been a USL First Division fixture. That gives its fan base a long – by U.S. soccer standards – tradition to uphold. Outside the field, spectators arrive by rail, bus and foot – which add to a European soccer city vibe. Portland Timbers billboards proliferate throughout the city as a reminder: Soccer is the sport of choice here.
When you’re not as a match, there’s no shortage of activity. It’s an artsy city full of farmer’s markets, coffee houses and microbreweries. I could easily get lost in Powell’s Books. If you feel like getting some exercise, you’ll plenty of nearby hiking and biking. Pop culture fans might scout for all the locations in the Portlandia TV show, or look for all the street names that inspired the creation of characters from The Simpsons (creator Matt Groening is a Portland native).
Though it lacks a soccer-specific stadium, D.C. United gets unwavering support from its fans. During my visit, I watched the fan group called El Norte bring the noise through a stale goalless draw with Chicago Fire. Just getting to the match was fun. I arrived by the DC Metro, and it seemed every car was full of people decked out in United’s red and black, from shorts to scarves.
With the Washington Capitals, Wizards, Redskins and Nationals in the market, some visitors might not even realize there’s an MLS team. That’s a surprise considering the D.C. area is a hot spot for youth soccer; more than a few national champion-caliber youth soccer clubs populate that area.
Away from the stadium, well … you’re in the nation’s capital. You’ll have your pick of museums – from the Smithsonian to the International Spy Museum – and an array of iconic monuments.
Seattle Sounders FC nipped its rival Portland Timbers FC into the MLS by a few years. And unfortunately, that was before my most-recent visit to Seattle. I’m eager to get back there for a look at a Sounders match: It’s a top performer that can push any time in the league.
More importantly, though? Locals love the club. They prove it in ticket sales, where they help Sounders FC break MLS attendance records. Last year, the club led the league with average attendance of 38,496.
If you plan to visit Seattle for a Sounders match, try to schedule it when the team plays one of its Pacific Northwest rivals – Timbers or Vancouver Whitecaps. The three teams compete for the Cascadia Cup. You can also try to catch an international friendly against top teams from Europe. The team often opens all 65,000-plus seats for the international friendlies.
Aside from the 90 minutes of soccer action, Seattle has plenty to do. If you’re an outdoor sort of person, you’ll find plenty of hiking trails east of the city. If you like to keep it in the city, the EMP Museum is one of my top choices. The Gas Works city park is also worth a visit.