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Sunday in Seattle offers glimpse of MLS’s mainstream future

Oct 8, 2012, 3:37 AM EDT

Portland Timbers v Seattle Sounders Getty Images

SEATTLE, Wash. — This is what it will be like when Major League Soccer hits the big time. Too far into the future for any of us to predict, Sunday’s scene in Seattle will be the norm – not a cause for celebration.

Then again, for as long as most of us can remember, soccer in North America has always been defined by the future. One day, soccer will be the biggest sport in the land, a refrain that repeats as most futures come and go.

Sunday’s match at CenturyLink finally gave us a glimpse of the promised land, one in which all the predictions finally come to fruition – one in which 66,452 people come to see a regular season game in MLS.

“When you looked up and you walked out there and you said, Man, this isn’t the Seahawks playing today,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said, after the match. “This is the Sounders. This is something you never thought was necessarily going to happen in U.S. soccer.”

Seattle drew more fans than three Sunday NFL games. They outdrew every weekend match in the English Premier League. None of Major League Baseball’s playoff games came close.

“This is what heaven must be like,” Schmid said, his eyes pink and puffy. Either he had just finished crying or he was about to start.

“In my imagination of heaven, this is it.”

Schmid has earned his moment of reflection. He has a right to be emotional. The former Galaxy and Crew boss left a successful team in Columbus to start new in Seattle four seasons ago. While the Pacific Northwest was already a soccer hotbed, there was no guarantee of on-field success. It was a career-defining risk, and there was also no guarantee the off-field momentum would continue.

“It was a little bit emotional for me, but I was really proud of that. This club has been the best thing that happened to me in soccer. I’m thankful that for every day that I’m here.”

(MORE: Analysis of Seattle’s comfortable win)

Schmid is as much a face of the franchise as Joe Roth, Drew Carey, Paul Allen, or Adrian Hanauer – Seattle’s ownership group. When the Sounders’ largest supporter group (Emerald City Supporters) unveiled their pregame tifo, Schmid was their subject, the Sounders’ boss pictured at a poker table, showing Portland general manager Gavin Wilkinson his royal flush.

“What’s happening here is phenomenal. Everybody thought it was going to disappear – that it was going to go away. It hasn’t gone away. If anything, it’s grown.”

“It just goes to show you how far soccer has come in our country,” Seattle striker Eddie Johnson said post-match.

Johnson left MLS in 2007 before the latest round of expansion brought Seattle into the league. Leveraging his experience in the English Premier League and with the U.S. Men’s National Team, Johnson compared CenturyLink’s environment with some of the world’s marquee venues.

“[CenturyLink is] like any other stadium – like Old Trafford away, playing in Azteca in front of 110,000 people. It doesn’t get any better than the atmosphere here tonight.”

(MORE: MLS commissioner makes the scene)

If there was a difference between CenturyLink’s crowd and those you’d see in other famous venues, it was the distinctly North American feel. Though the stadium was a sea of Seattle green, the atmosphere wasn’t defined by supporter chants. ECS and the 1,500 Timbers Army members who’d made the trip north saw their songs and taunts drowned out by applause, gasps, and cheers – the soundtrack you’d hear at football, baseball, and basketball games.

When excitement waned and the nervous murmur died down, the supporters would fill the void, just as the songs and cheers at other sporting events attack the idle moments. The more conventional atmosphere was neither good nor bad, better or worse, but it was familiar for anybody who’s used to taking their family to see one of the nation’s big three sports. They would have felt at home. No, this wasn’t a Seahawks game, but the atmosphere was little different.

If Sunday in Seattle was a glimpse of the future, then it is a more mainstream one. It’s a future that looks more like the Seahawks than Chelsea. For neither better nor worse, the future looks like a North American experience.

And if that means crowds of 66,452, it was hard to find fault with the tradeoff.

  1. footballer4ever - Oct 8, 2012 at 8:50 AM

    Great post, Richard!

    I am not a believer of tooting our own horns, but it’s special to briefly mention the amazing sight at CenturyLink field.

    Having said that, i’d prefer a stabilized MLS league in which ALL teams can constantly bring at least 20-25k butts to the seat per game and for the football play level to increase. The SSFC effect is a special case scenario which i admire and applaud in every sense and having a rival like PTFC is a must in any rivalry.

    I enjoyed this sunday night football match; However, PTFC fell flat on their faces for the occassion on this special sunday football rivalry theme which seemed to play out throughout the world in different leagues as well.

    Dropping off from cloud 9, it’s time to get back to work as fans, ambassadors and any other roles we might get to play in making the beautiful game a permanent success in this country.

  2. footballer4ever - Oct 8, 2012 at 9:01 AM

    In case you missed the match, here is s brief highlights reel:

  3. rawb213 - Oct 8, 2012 at 10:34 AM

    This is for the people that think seattles tifo was impressive. They totally stole this idea.

    • sixxtwo - Oct 8, 2012 at 8:07 PM

      Roulette is not poker… they look nothing alike and you are just extremely delusional and buttdevastated.

  4. footballer4ever - Oct 8, 2012 at 12:46 PM


    And your point is? original idea or not, it does not matter as long as there are supporters out there who are passionate about its club. I wish more MLS clubs supporters were more involved.

  5. d3js2012 - Oct 8, 2012 at 12:49 PM

    With all due respect, the 4 MLB stadiums that hosted playoff games this weekend only hold between 40,000-52,000 fans, so it would be impossible to come close to 66,000. And of the NFL games the Sounders outdrew, only one of those stadiums has a capacity greater than 66,000. While it’s very impressive the Sounders drew nearly 66,000 fans, your statistics are misleading. It’s hard to make a valid comparison when dealing with smaller stadiums.

    • nygiantstones - Oct 8, 2012 at 1:38 PM

      Granted MLS stadiums aren’t the the same size as NFL or MLB stadiums, but in this case the Sounders outdrawing all of those other games still says something about the MLS’ ability to draw fans. The NFL is the #1 sport in the US, why aren’t all the stadiums able to hold 66K fans? Same with MLB, pretty sad that playoff games only have the ability to hold 40-50K fans. They should be drawing a lot more fans. Obviously TV ratings are what matter and neither the Sounders nor MLS are drawing the millions of viewers the NFL and MLB drew this weekend.

      • Richard Farley - Oct 10, 2012 at 1:09 PM

        I can see people taking issue with what I wrote. Perhaps it could have been phrased better, but it seems the only people who have a problem with the reference are those who thing that it is meant to put the different figures on a scale. It’s meant for context.

        NFL draws big crowds. We all agree. MLB playoffs should draw big crowds. We all agree. Some for EPL. Guess what? MLS drew a big, big crowd, too.

  6. footballer4ever - Oct 8, 2012 at 2:21 PM

    @ nygiantstones

    Thanks for your post considering you look to be a nfl fan. The author is not being misleading, but maybe he is tooting the MLS horn a bit and should have left the comparisons outside of this topic which it does not mean or add to anything.

    Either way, for a sport who supposedly noone cares about in USA , it’s positive news to see the ongoing growth football is experiencing daily and a display like SSFC did is bringing down the “barriers” one day at a time.

    • nygiantstones - Oct 8, 2012 at 7:53 PM

      Was rebutting d3js2012 and supporting the author. I was actually an NFL, MLB, NBA fan long before I started watching soccer. But these days, I can barely stomach watching American sports. I don’t watch MLB or NBA at all anymore, and only watch Giants games on DVR so I can fast forward through all the commercials and replays. (Side note: pathetic that Americans look down on European teams that have ads on their jersies, yet the same fans watch an hour of ads during a 3 hour sporting event, while soccer fans watch 90 minutes of action, 15 minutes of analysis and commercials). I’m a big EPL fan and a Sounders fan. Can’t say that I really enjoy the rest of the league yet, as the overall quality isn’t really there to substantiate watching teams I don’t root for. Obviously, that can be said about 99% of the leagues in the world. Anyways, I like that the author used the Sounders to compare to the other leagues games.

    • corgster - Oct 9, 2012 at 1:08 PM

      I just hope that sometime in the future many of those upper level tickets will not be sold by papering youth leagues with buy one ticket for 4 seats or Groupon.

      Then I know we will have made it.

  7. ndnut - Oct 8, 2012 at 2:41 PM

    I am a football and soccer fan myself (yes that is allowed here in ‘Murika). The NFL is still miles and miles above every sport in the nation. MLB is probably next, bit it isn’t growing, rather it is possibly shrinking in popularity, though it is probably holding steady. Now this leaves the NBA, NHL, and MLS. Regular season wise, they are about the same. NBA though grows during their playoffs due to good marketing. If MLS begins marketing their playoffs better I think that they can really grow. You can only rely on the USMNT to grow the sport so much. MLS has come a long way, but it still has a ways to go. The deal with NBC Sports is big and will definitely help the league, but some good league marketing could really help the league. This is a benchmark achievement of how far they have come, but Garber and the rest of the league must realize that they can get it better than the have it in all of the markets they have and don’t have.

  8. footballer4ever - Oct 8, 2012 at 3:31 PM

    We have a great commissioner in Dan Garber who is a great sports businessman. The way he led this “ship” from being close to folding to being a respectable, solid and ever growing sport league it’s Admirable. Now not everything he does or does not do is agreeable to fans all the time, but it does not have to be. However, our league is in great hands which most other leagues cannot comfortably or proudly dare to say about their own commissioners, including the NFL.

  9. jhalion - Oct 8, 2012 at 6:09 PM

    Seattle’s display; from the fans to the product on the field; made me very proud to be a soccer fan in America. Job well done SSFC! The rest of the league (and sports fans in general) definitely took notice.

  10. lunasceiling - Oct 9, 2012 at 7:49 PM

    It pains me to say it (being a Portlander, and all), but well done, Seattle! That’s a great number, and I think it really does show that soccer is moving in the right direction in the US. Our stadium is only about a third that size, but the games sell out weeks in advance…so the sport is doing well here (despite the Timbers having a real stinker of a season). Just getting tix for the friendly against Valencia was tough.

  11. footballer4ever - Oct 9, 2012 at 10:06 PM


    Nothing to be ashamed, fellow football fan. SSFC is special in its own way Portland is as special to MLS as SSFC is

  12. footballer4ever - Oct 9, 2012 at 10:13 PM


    Nothing to be ashamed and it’s okay for rivals to respect each other. The best thing that happened to our league was for SSFC and PTFC to have joined in as each club has emhanced and raised the profile and opened the eyez to the casual fan by your passion. Remember, there is no Real Madrid without a Barcelona or a SSFC without a Portland. As a SSFC, i root for Portland to get better next year to make this rivalry a competitive and exciting one inside and outside the pitch.

  13. footballer4ever - Oct 11, 2012 at 11:34 AM

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