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Soccer-mad Portland readies for All-Star spotlight

Soccer-mad Portland readies for All-Star spotlight
A Portland Timbers fan celebrates a goal during the second half of an MLS soccer game against the Seattle Sounders in Portland, Ore., Saturday, April 5, 2014. The teams tied 4-4. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Even on balmy summer nights, a green Portland Timbers scarf is a ubiquitous accessory in a place known as Soccer City USA.

But fans aren't just in it for the fashion. It's common to see them sleeping outside Providence Park the night before a match. After kickoff, the atmosphere in the always-sold out stadium is loud and intense as fans sing and chant for the full 90 minutes.

Visitors and television viewers in 150 countries will get a look at Portland's enthusiasm for the sport at Wednesday's Major League Soccer All-Star Game. The contest pits the American professional league's best players against German powerhouse Bayern Munich, which includes six players who played for the World Cup-winning country.

"People throughout the U.S. and Canada have certainly witnessed the incredible passion and atmosphere that exists in Providence Park for a Timbers game. It does not go unnoticed," said Dan Courtemanche, the MLS' executive vice president of communications. "Our television partners, they love to have games on their networks from Portland because when people turn on the television and see that crowd, see (lumberjack mascot) Timber Joey cutting that log, it's compelling television,"

Though the all-star game is the major draw, the league has turned the entire week into a celebration of soccer. Portland's downtown square has added a mini-soccer field. The square is serving as the hub for many activities, including a free viewing party for those who couldn't get tickets.

Tenzin Samkhar, 21, wore a Bayern Munich jersey while checking out the square Friday. He has a ticket for Wednesday's match.

"I'm like super excited," he said. "It's a big team in Europe; they just recently won almost everything. It's crazy that they're coming here."

Portland wouldn't be Portland without bicycles, indie rock and food carts, and those are also being tied in with all-star week. The Flaming Lips and Cold War Kids are playing free concerts, two bicycling events are on tap for Sunday and several food-cart operators will compete at the MLS Grilled Cheese Throwdown.

"What's more Portland than that, right?" Timbers owner Merritt Paulson said of the sandwich contest.

Paulson bought the Timbers when they played at a level below Major League Soccer. The crowds were enthusiastic at the time, but the excitement jumped exponentially when the club joined MLS for the 2011 season.

Within Portland, there's a perception that the city embraces soccer because its residents like to be different or long to be European.

"I think there's a little counterculture element here. You know, the whole 'Keep Portland Weird' thing," Paulson said. "But look, soccer's flourishing in Kansas City, and nobody's going to accuse Kansas City of being European or counterculture. The fact is the sport's taking off."
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