4. Portland Timbers
Average 2013 attendance:
Baseball teams it outdraws:
Miami Marlins (17,168), Tampa Bay Rays (17,718), Houston Astros (18,271), Cleveland Indians (18,995)
To understand just how big soccer is in this town, keep in mind that next year's MLS All-Star Game will be the first major-league All-Star Game in this town of any kind. The NBA played its star-studded even in Vegas without so much as sniffing the TrailBlazers' home court at the Rose Garden, but MLS is all in.
Never mind that the University of Portland churns out men's and women's national team players such as Conor Casey, Megan Rapinoe, Steve Cherundolo, Stephanie Lopez and Kasey Keller as if they're the region's biggest exports. Never mind that Portland alum Christine Sinclair and women's national team star Alex Morgan helped the Portland Thorns women's team set a U.S. women's soccer record by drawing nearly 16,500 fans to the team's first game.
It's the Timbers and their long, circuitous roots that keep this a soccer town. The team got its start in the North American Soccer League from 1975 through 1982, hung on as F.C. Portland in the Western Soccer League from 1985 through 1990 and re-emerged as the Timbers in the USL from 2000 through last year. The team was bought by Merritt Paulson and his father, former Treasury secretary Henry Paulson, and has been selling out every match since joining MLS three years ago.
Thank the several thousand members of the Timbers Army supporters group for much of that enthusiasm. They've backed the team for nearly a decade and carry on Timbers traditions such as former mascot Timber Jim's chainsawing of a log each time the team scores a goal. The giant signs, the songs and chants, the reasonably priced (read: face value) resale tickets to just about every Timbers game -- that's all them. They can seem cultish, nerdy and downright pedantic to outsiders, but once fans have been on their feet in their section for the full 90, it's clear who willed this team into being.