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Feb 18, 2009

Portland awaits MLS expansion decision

As MLS prepares to unveil its two choices for expansion spots in 2011, Portland, Oregon knows that this could be its last chance to land a franchise.

Merritt Paulson, who owns the Portland Timbers and minor-league baseball team Beavers, has spent the last few months trying to convince league officials that the Rose City is somewhere that a soccer franchise would thrive.

In December, MLS commissioner Don Garber and MLS president Mark Abbott both visited the city to meet with a 18-member task force that was assigned to oversee Paulson's proposal.

The main issues to arise from that meeting were that the city would be required to cough up the funds needed to redevelop PGE Park, thus ensuring it meets the criteria set out by MLS. Paulson has already agreed to pay the expansion fee as long as he gets the required backing from the city to upgrade the downtown stadium, but the haggling over costs is still ongoing.

One of the main obstacles in the Portland bid is relocating the Beavers to their own purpose-built stadium. It has been suggested that a stadium could be set up in the Lents area of the city, but nothing has been decided on yet -- the task force is eager to reduce the cost of the overall project before committing to it.

Portland has been told that they have until March 15 to decide whether or not they can meet the full requirements set out by the MLS.

Even though he has already stated that this is the last chance to bring Major League Soccer to Portland in the foreseeable future, Paulson remains confident that the Pacific Northwest is ready for another MLS team (Seattle joined the league this year).

"There is a strong spirit of collaboration between us and the city," said Paulson.

"Portland does want MLS to happen, but it is a question of reaching a deal that works for us, the city and the taxpayers at the end of the day. And that process has just begun.

"If the city is willing to invest in the facility, then we believe MLS will happen in Portland."

Portland will not be guaranteed a place in the ever-expanding soccer league even if Paulson does come up with find a new home for the Beavers, because there are five other cities in contention for the two spots on offer.

Miami, St Louis, Atlanta, Ottawa, and Vancouver have also submitted strong proposals to win the expansion spots.

Garber's recent trip to the city has certainly boosted Portland's profile ahead of the crunch decision.

Paulson is quite enthused by what the commissioner has said, but he believes that anyone who takes a close look at the project will surely get excited by its potential of bringing MLS to a "soccer-mad" city.

"I have been in touch with MLS and Don [Garber] throughout this process so there have been no surprises for us," said Paulson.

"Again, if the facility issues are addressed, I like Portland's chances."

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