Long before the United States had Crew Stadium, before the cauldron of Sporting Park and before more than 40,000 people cheered them on in Seattle, they had Portland.
Soccer City USA lived up to the name they gave themselves decades ago by packing Civic Stadium, now JELD-WEN Field, and providing the U.S. with an atmosphere distinctly foreign. It was loud, knowledgable and a true home-field advantage. It was as un-American as soccer crowds came at the time.
When the U.S. played Costa Rica in 1997, they were chasing a spot in the World Cup -- their third consecutive trip to the world's biggest sporting event. Having hosted the 1994 World Cup and advanced to the knockout stages, they couldn't afford to miss the trip to France four years later. All that growth and talk of a changing American soccer would be put to bed.
With that on the line, they went back home. They went to Portland.
And Soccer City, USA put on a show for the U.S. team. Decked in white shirts, with constant noise and an atmosphere that it took years for any other American city to ever match, Portland hosted a 1-0 win that moved them within arm's length of the 1998 World Cup. Portland helped keep American soccer chugging along.
Tab Ramos gave the crowd in Portland something to celebrate, and celebrate they did.
But as the Civic Stadium changed and American soccer changed, the U.S. and Portland grew apart. The home that the U.S. grew up in became nothing more than a memory as newer and more refined homes welcomed the ever-growing Americans.
The biggest matches went to Crew Stadium, a soccer-specific stadium with grass. It also had a very pro-American crowd that drowned out the Mexicans and became the go-to place for all big U.S. matches. Not only did it do its job as a host, but it represented the first major shift in American soccer and ushered in a decade of soccer stadiums that could host the U.S.
Salt Lake City, Denver and Kansas City may not be Soccer City, USA, but they had soccer-specific stadiums. They had grass. They had pro-U.S. crowds. They were everything that the U.S. could have only dreamed of years ago.
In the last 16 years, Soccer City, USA has been missing a major part of the equation -- the USA.
The U.S. hasn't played in Portland since 1997, when Ramos fired the Americans to victory and a step closer to the World Cup. They have watched as dozens of cities have hosted their team, as the sport has grown and as other cities have done what Portland did 16 years ago when such a thing was unheard of.
But tonight the U.S. returns to Portland. It wasn't the USSF's doing -- they still insist on grass for World Cup qualifiers, ast least for the men, while the women have received fantastic support in Portland for years -- so CONCACAF had to return the Americans to Portland for a Gold Cup match. But whatever the competition, and whoever did it, Soccer City, USA is back.