By: Cullen McIntyre, Sports Editor
The beautiful game may be on its way to Portland, according to the Portland Press Herald. Professional soccer has not made an appearance in Portland before, though GPS Portland Phoenix currently plays in the United Soccer League 2, a pre-professional development league. The club talks of coming to Portland, would play in the United Soccer League 1, the third tier of United States soccer.
Headed by Gabe Hoffman-Johnson, a 2010 graduate of Falmouth High School, the team will be called “Portland United”, and will need to look for a place to build their soccer-specific home. It was reported that the club could have pushed to begin play by the upcoming spring had they been able to expand the turf in Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland, but the city officials said that expanding the turf was not an option. Due to this, the club would like to begin their first season in 2021, as reported in the Press Herald.
Hoffman-Johnson, a former player on Saint Louis FC in the United Soccer League Championship, has seen how the league functions. A viable ownership group led by him and local real estate developer Jonathan Culley are hoping to have soccer in the city, and as reported they believe that Portland can support a professional soccer team.
The league itself is targeting cities that range in population from 150,000 to one million, and in markets that do not have a professional team. The city of Portland does fall below the population count, but the fans that could be drawn in from all across southern Maine will make up for the numbers. According to the league’s official website, “League One has focused on launching new clubs in markets that possess strong local ownership groups, populations with broad-based diversity, a vibrant millennial and strong family base, established corporate support, and stadiums to properly showcase for fans, partners and the public.”
Soccer in Maine would bring a unique experience to the city, a fan experience like no other. The atmosphere of soccer across the world is embedded in passion, and love for the game. New England is home to some of the most passionate fans in the country, if not the world. Having witnessed 12 championships from the professional teams in Boston, competition is something fans in New England live for.
The current professional teams in New England are the New England Revolution, located in Foxborough, MA, 141 miles from Portland, and Hartford Athletic in Hartford, CT, 200 miles from Portland. The challenge brought to a fan from Maine looking to watch a live professional match is that the shortest drive to a professional match is a two hours and 20 minute drive from Portland. A team in Portland would grow a committed fanbase early, as the early access to a team in Portland would bring every soccer fan together across southern maine.
The experience of a soccer game is not like a typical sporting event, as soccer is known for their eccentric fan bases that sing, chant, and are vocally present the entire match. Fans are known for sharing their passion for their team the entire game, waving large flags, holding up scarves, or creating large tifos (choreographed banner). 90 minutes of emotion are what fans experience in a game, and the Portland United experience could be something the city has never seen before.
With a growing diversity in Portland, the world’s game could bring people together that may never come together without soccer. With all of the divide in today’s world, soccer is something a community can gather together and support no matter who they are. They may not speak the same language, but soccer is a universal language for all.
Tickets for games in the United Soccer League 1 are affordable, as single game tickets for staple franchise Forward Madison FC range from $16 to $45 across the stadium. Season tickets for the upcoming 2020 season range from $252 to $646. Compared to the prices for a Revolution match, that may range from For a small town market like Portland, these prices may be lower in the clubs inaugural season, and will pave the way for a dedicated fan base in Portland.
Weekends in Portland from late March to early October may change within in the coming years, as the 28-game inaugural USL 1 season ran from March 29 to October 5. The league is set to bring on three new clubs for the 2020 season, as Omaha Pro Soccer, Penn FC, and the Rochester Rhinos will join the 10 original clubs. Portland would be a great addition to the league, for the city as well as the fans.