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BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/New stadium in Los Angeles signals MLS momentum/Timbers eye chance for road win/Thorns look for more sparks

A glittering sign of the momentum MLS is enjoying came on Sunday, when the $350 million Banc of California Stadium opened on the former site of the Los Angeles Sports Arena. The arena drew rave reviews for its sight lines of the field and skyline and as a celebration of that city's cultural diversity.

No one, of course, mentioned Portland during any of the hoopla. But as the L.A. supporters' group sang the national anthem and Will Farrell released a falcon, it was hard not to think about the role the Timbers and their supporters have played in sparking interest in MLS.

I'm not suggesting the league needed success in Portland to make the likes of LAFC part-owner Magic Johnson believe soccer was an investment whose time had come. At the same time, the supporter culture built by the Timbers (and the Sounders) deserves some mention here.

There is a reason Timbers home games against Seattle are always on national television, and it's not because games from the upper left corner of the country breaks ratings records. It's because the energy of the rivalry was something the league could sell when the soccer was so-so.

Now the derbies in New York and Los Angeles, plus the burgeoning dislike between Orlando City and Atlanta, rival Cascadia in intensity (though not in history). 

The soccer is much better now than it was when the Timbers joined MLS in 2011, because teams have more money to invest in talent. The best example of the improvement was Toronto FC's push to be the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League title.

Alas, Chivas Guadalajara won on penalty kicks last week to keep the regional championship in Mexico. But by making Champions League matches a priority, the defending MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield winners showed that MLS is closing the gap with Liga MX.

The Champions League schedule, with its knockout phase coming at the beginning of the MLS season, will continue to be a challenge for MLS entries. But the sooner an MLS team can win it, the better it will be for those who want to see the CCL gain meaningful relevance.

The Timbers (2-3-2, 8 points) return to action at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, playing at San Jose. It is one of only two away games in a two-month window. And it is an opportunity to build momentum from consecutive home wins — most recently a 3-0 win on April 22 over New York City FC (which rebounded to hand FC Dallas its first loss last weekend).

The Earthquakes (1-4-2, 5 points) figure to be a hungry team. They haven't won since a 3-2 home win over Minnesota United in the March 3 season opener. This is the only home match in a five-game stretch for San Jose, which should add to its urgency.

The Quakes have scored in each of their seven games, and their four losses were all by one goal. On the other foot, they have conceded the second-most goals per game in the league (one more than the Timbers).

For Portland, one of three teams tied with eight points just below the playoff line, a third consecutive win would build momentum heading into a May 13 visit from Seattle.

The Thorns get their shot at Seattle this weekend, with the Reign visiting Providence Park at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

Portland (2-1-2, 8) starts the weekend third in the National Women's Soccer League. But there is some frustration after consecutive 1-1 draws have the Thorns eight points back of league-leading North Carolina.

The best news for Portland in an overall solid performance in front of more than 8,000 Utah Royals fans last weekend was the goal from Tobin Heath. The delicate chip finish was Heath's first goal for the Thorns in nearly two years.

For the second week in a row, Heath came on for about the last half hour. A pass from Christine Sinclair set up the score.

Sinclair has contributed to six of the Thorns' seven goals this season (four goals, two assists). Heath became only the third player to score for the team this season, joining Sinclair and Lindsey Horan.

The game at Utah also featured the debut of Brazilian midfielder Andressinha. She came on in the 64th minute and demonstrated the feel for the game and vision coach Mark Parsons raved about when Portland acquired the midfielder from Houston. In addition to forcing the giveaway that produced Portland's goal, Andressinha made several upfield passes that almost sprung teammates in on goal.

Perhaps Andressinha's arrival can spark an attack that has produced only five goals in the run of play through five games.

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