MLS Allstar

All-Star: Soccer City USA has long and colorful history with Providence Park

Pelé, Elvis, President Taft & more; MLS All-Star Game is next great Providence Park showcase

Pele, Civic Stadium, Soccer City USA

Photo Credit: 
(Timbers.com)

The 2014 AT&T MLS All-Star in Portland this Wednesday at Providence Park (6:30pm PT, ESPN2) will most definitely have its share of buzz-worthy moments. FC Bayern Munich is brining six members of the reigning World Cup champion German national team along with a host of other stars to take on some of the best in MLS.

One star that will remain in Portland is our very own historic Providence Park. While soccer has been played on the grounds before the stadium was even first built in 1926, the building has hosted some pretty spectacular moments in its near 90-year existence.

First built with a grandstand and field to host amateur sporting events by the Multnomah Athletic Club (MAC), it was expanded into the full Multnomah Stadium, as it was then called, by noted Portland architect A.E. Doyle in 1926. Long a gathering spot for Portland sporting events and activities, it was also utilized as a staging area for the massive floats of the Rose Festival held every spring.

Purchased by the city in 1966, the name changed to Civic Stadium, which was home to the NASL Portland Timbers in the mid-1970s. In 2001, it was renovated again as PGE Park and was home to the USL Portland Timbers as well as AAA baseball's Portland Beavers. In 2011, the name changed to JELD-WEN Field as the classic building underwent another major renovation mixing the history of the orginal western and north stands with a new modern eastern stands and soccer-specific configuration for Major League Soccer.

Now known as Providence Park it is, by far, the oldest stadium to ever host an MLS All-Star Game and has the grand history to prove it. What will Wednesday bring? Only time will tell. In the meantime, here’s a look back at some of the more colorful stories and memorable people who’ve graced the Providence Park field:

  • On Saturday, Oct. 2, 1909, President William H. Taft addressed more than 20,000 children at Multnomah Field (Providence Park) in a festive event that included a tribute that "brought tears to his eyes," according to a New York Times report. The boys and girls were banked in red, white and blue rows in the grandstand to form a "living flag." Said Taft: "You call yourself the 'City of Roses' because of the beautiful flowers, but I look now upon 20,000 human roses, upon which I congratulate your city and your parents much more."
     

  • Beginning in 1933, the annual 60-day dog-racing season served as the anchor attraction at Multnomah Stadium (Providence Park) for more than 20 years. Fans loved the dogs, especially Fawn Warrior, who completed the 1933 season with an 11-4-1 record in 17 starts. The oldest of the nine contestants in the 1933 Derby, Fawn Warrior had his following, helping draw more than 35,000 fans to Multnomah Stadium--with thousands more being turned away--as he raced to victory as a 7-5 favorite, establishing a new world record of 35.40 seconds to finish the 604-yard course.
     

  • Already a legendary figure in Oregon sports lore as a standout quarterback during his collegiate days at the University of Oregon, NFL Hall-of-Famer Norm Van Brocklin starred in a historic game at Multnomah Stadium (Providence Park) on Aug. 28, 1955, leading the Los Angeles Rams to a 23-17 victory over the New York Giants in a preseason exhibition game before 22,222. What makes the game stand out, specifically, is that it was the first-ever NFL game decided by overtime whereupon Van Brocklin engineered an eight-play, 70-yard drive that culminated with a two-yard touchdown plunge by Tank Younger.
     

  • Entering the stadium in a white convertible, Elvis Presley brought his West Coast tour to Multnomah Stadium (Providence Park) on Sept. 2, 1957, one day after performing a pair of shows in Tacoma and Seattle. Fans lined up at Multnomah Stadium several hours before the concert and despite reports of "near-riot conditions" created by screaming fans, Elvis ripped through his 40-minute set that night at Multnomah Stadium, showcasing such hits as "Don't Be Cruel" and "Teddy Bear." The Timbers Army still sing “Can’t Help Falling in Love” in the 85th minute of every match.
     

  • Hailed as the best and most popular soccer player ever, Pelé, near the end of his considerable career, helped lift the North American Soccer League (NASL) into the national conscience when he signed with the New York Cosmos in 1975. After three seasons in the NASL, Pelé played what is regarded as his last official game at Portland's Civic Stadium (Providence Park), helping the Cosmos to victory over the Seattle Sounders in Soccer Bowl '77 on Aug. 28, 1977. A sellout crowd of more than 35,000 filled the stadium and helped Pelé and the Cosmos commemorate their NASL championship in "Soccer City USA."
     

  • A legendary figure in the local and national soccer realm, Clive Charles was a standout defender for the NASL Portland Timbers from 1978-81. A three-time NASL All-Star, Charles was later selected to the all-time NASL team by Pelé. Following his playing career, Charles enjoyed a successful national and collegiate coaching career. He helped grow the U.S. men’s and women’s national programs and led both the men’s and women’s soccer teams at the University of Portland, leading the women’s team--starring future Thorns FC forward Christine Sinclair--to the NCAA championship during his final year of coaching the Pilots in 2002. Charles’ No. 3 jersey number worn with the Timbers was retired in 2003.

  • In April of 1997, the U.S. Men's National Team defeated Costa Rica at a packed Civic Stadium as part of the 1998 World Cup qualifying cycle. Tab Ramos scored a superb goal and play-by-play announcer Bob Ley said, "This might be the best atmosphere ever for a U.S. soccer match."
     
  • Group stage matches of the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup are held at Civic Stadium (Providence Park). Chinese superstar Sun Wen scored a hat trick in a 7-0 thrashing of Ghana while future Portland Thorns FC goalkeeper Nadine Angerer sat on the bench for Germany’s 6-0 win over Mexico.
  • The FIFA Women’s World Cup returned to Portland in 2003 and PGE Park (Providence Park) played host to both group stage matches as well as tournament knockout round games. Future Thorns FC star Sinclair played for Canada in their 1-0 quarterfinal win over China at the Park while Angerer, now the starter for Germany, backstopped her team to 3-0 victory over the United States in the semi's.
  • JELD-WEN Field (Providence Park) is chosen as one of the group round stadiums for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup. The U.S. Men’s National Team, comprised of numerous MLS players, destroyed Belize 6-1 behind a Chris Wondolowski hat trick. Wondolowski’s name on the back of his jersey was famously mis-spelled with three “W’s” as “Wondowlowski.”

Note: You can read more about the stadium's history in special plaques along the first level of suites near the northwest corner of the field. Text from many of those plaques is included above.