Rose City Invitational Becoming an MLS Tradition

Portland’s preseason tourney a sign that the start of the season is close
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, February 28, 2014

Taylor Fugate Photography - Portland Timbers, MLS

It’s the sign that the MLS regular season is near, and it is rapidly becoming a traditional part of the Portland sports schedule, and of the MLS preseason.

We are again in the midst of the Rose City Invitational, and no other MLS preseason event brings over 10,000 people out on a chilly night in downtown Portland to see 2 rivals play each other, and where Portland Timbers send their reserves and academy players out to play a side some hadn’t heard of until the tourney began.

While the Timbers-Portmore United game ended in a 1-1 draw, the final score wasn’t really all that important. It was a chance for players to go out and show the Timbers staff that they were worthy of getting consideration for the first team, or even a shot to be loaned out for more playing time. It was also a chance for some fans, who usually can’t get into the constantly-sold out Providence Park during the regular season, to see a game and get a small taste of the atmosphere, on a much-more laid back scale.

That is one of the important aspects of the Rose City Invitational, now in its third year (but the first under the current name). As the only MLS preseason tournament held at an MLS stadium, it provides a near-regular season environment where players can get ready for the start of the season, work to impress coaches and earn chances to get an occasional start, or even impress scouts in hopes of a move to get more playing time.

The event has become a much-anticipated part of the preseason calendar. The format is a round-robin schedule, with the Timbers, 2 other MLS sides and a foreign club playing each other once. The San Jose Earthquakes have been a part of the tourney for all 3 years, while Chivas USA (2012), FC Dallas (2013) and Vancouver Whitecaps (2014) have all taken part, as well. In fact, the Whitecaps took Amtrak to Portland to kick off their participation in the event.

For the first 2 years, the foreign side was AIK, one of Sweden’s most successful clubs. It was a preseason tune-up for them, too, as the Swedish Allsvenskan season has the same spring-to-fall schedule that MLS has. AIK was a popular addition to the event, as fans jampacked the stands to see them play on the pitch.

This year, the guest club is Portmore United, a 5-time winner of the Jamaican National Premier League and the 2005 Caribbean club champions. The RCI comes at the end of their schedule, though, as the club was able to avoid relegation just 2 years after winning the title. Portmore United is also the former club of Timbers’ defender Alvas Powell.

But no matter the opposition, the RCI has been well attended, much better than any other MLS preseason tournament. This year, the opening doubleheader saw the Whitecaps roll past Portmore United and the Quakes knocking off the Timbers in front of over 13,000 at Providence Park. Saturday’s doubleheader could draw even more, especially with Cascadian rivals Portland and Vancouver facing each other in the nightcap.

The goals of each club taking part are different. For San Jose, it’s a chance to quickly get into form with the club’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal matchup with Mexican side Toluca coming up. The Whitecaps are looking to adjust to a new coach and solidify the starting XI after the loss of Golden Boot winner Camilo Sanvezzo. And it’s a rare opportunity for Portmore United to play against clubs outside of the Caribbean.

One odd part of the RCI is that in the tournament’s 3-year history, Portland has won only once in 8 matches. That was a 1-0 over AIK in 2012 on the last day of the event. The Timbers have 1 loss and 2 draws against San Jose, 1 win and 2 draws against AIK/Portmore, 1 draw against Chivas USA in 2012 and 1 loss to FC Dallas in 2013. Of course, as any Timbers fan will tell you, results in the RCI don’t reflect too much on how the regular season will look.

Usually, the teams taking part in the RCI aren’t announced until December. So it will be a while until next year’s lineup will be known.

The clubs who will head to Portland at the end of February 2015 will be able to get ready for the MLS season in an environment that will be close to a regular season atmosphere, much different than if they played in Arizona, Florida or another Sun Belt location.

But that’s the selling point for the Rose City Invitational. There’s no other preseason event that draws the crowds, has the facilities and allows clubs to adjust to a northern climate just before the MLS regular season begins.

There’s nothing else like it in MLS. And it’s the sign that the regular season is about to begin.

NEXT UP: March 1 – Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, Providence Park, Portland, Ore. 8 p.m. EST, Timbers.com.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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