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Night of vindication all around for Seattle, fans

Jun 12, 2013, 4:01 AM EST

Panama v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Getty Images

SEATTLE — The sellout didn’t happen, but as Seattle’s soccer fans showed, it didn’t matter. Besides, it’s hard to imagine 42,000 would have meaningful louder than the 40,847 who turned out to CenturyLink Field on Tuesday night. In voice, spirit, if not in the highly anticipated number, the fans were more than enough.

It was the seventh-largest home crowd in U.S. qualifying history, one that had no problem delivering the expected atmosphere. U.S. fans proved every bit as capable of filling Seattle’s cavernous venue with chants and songs that rivaled the Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC groups that cheer on the Sounders.

And after days of debate about Seattle’s expected attendance — increasingly nuanced explanations confounded an already loaded issue — the scene at CenturyLink left only two conclusions: Seattle’s fans delivered; and the community had earned its vindication.

“Amazing crowd,” was Jurgen Klinsmann’s assessment, words echoed in some form by ever player within a breath of a microphone Tuesday night. “It was just a wonderful atmosphere that the players enjoyed tremendously. We all did.”

“[It was] the best crowd I’ve played in (front of) in the United States, without a doubt,” Michael Bradley said. “People don’t know what a difference it makes when you play in an atmosphere like this.”

Perhaps the difference was evident in their performance. In some ways, the U.S.’s play wasn’t that different from what we saw in Jamaica. The team was threatened early but generally dictated tempo. They scored first through Jozy Altidore. The team eventually won.

The differences: The U.S. pushed for a second goal out of halftime in Seattle, an effort a large, supportive crowd could have bolstered; and the team didn’t give up a late goal, something the crowd’s encouragement could have promoted.

It’s all speculation, but when you hear a player like Bradley say onlookers “don’t know” how the support influences players, you wonder if, in those moments where you can see a clear difference from one game to the next, the crowd wasn’t the necessary condition.

But support wasn’t the only area where Seattle proved vindicated. The imported sod surface, much maligned all weekend, held up better than expected, even if the match’s early moments saw a number of players have trouble with their footing.

Yet probed after the match, no player had a negative word to stay. Instead, their reactions echoed their coach’s, who commended a CenturyLink ground crew that did everything they could to improve the field between Saturday and Tuesday.

“The field was totally fine,” Klinsmann said. “The players were totally fine with it. [The staff] did a tremendous job … They accommodated every wish we had. Water it here. Water it there. They rolled it again this morning. I can just give the biggest complements here for the field.”

With pitch issues set aside, the lasting story of Seattle’s first qualifier in 36 years will be its much-renown supporters – a community that justified U.S. Soccer’s decision to fly from Kingston  to play in front of its fans.

“Columbus is great and Kansas City has been fantastic,” Tim Howard explained, “but this was rocking. They did themselves justice tonight …

“It’s the best crowd around … We can’t get back to Seattle soon enough.”

On Tuesday, hours before the match, I asked what Seattle was getting out of this qualifier. Amid the criticism, much of which came off as opportunistic envy, what incentive did Seattle have to solicit another event that could act as a catalyst for negativity?

The Panama match completely destroyed that premise. In the span of a few hours, what looked like a no-win situation was overcome by the pure power of 40,000 screaming voices.

As the stadium shook after each U.S. goal, you saw what was in it for Seattle. They get a World Cup qualifier, a chance to contribute to the cause, and an opportunity to remind the rest of U.S. soccer culture: It will take more than the cried of skeptics to derail the Seattle phenomenon.

  1. hate23putt - Jun 12, 2013 at 8:53 AM

    Great win and a great showing by the Seattle crowd.

    It was so good to see all the support the USA team received , Seattle should be a top venue for the National team.

    Well done Seattle !!!

    Going to Brazil!!!!

  2. florean - Jun 12, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    I think it says more about you and the media than Seattle that you wrote such wildly different pieces within a couple hours. The only legitimate concern was the pitch and we were pretty sure it would be good enough, if less than ideal. We knew what the crowd size estimates were going to be, we knew it was going to approach the seventh best qualifying crowd ever (second best since 2002). We knew that with a crowd larger than most Sounders games, the atmosphere was going to be amazing. There were no surprises here other then how well the team played.

  3. lunasceiling - Jun 12, 2013 at 10:38 AM

    >the chants you were hearing
    >Seattle fans

    Pick one.

    That said (and full disclosure: Timbers Army peep here), hats off to Seattle for fantastic support. Quibble over exact numbers all you want, but this was a huge, rowdy crowd, and it seemed to buoy the team.

  4. midtec2005 - Jun 12, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    Now I want to see Portland get a qualifier. Something tells me the Portland fans would want to one-up the Seattle fans. They can’t do it with numbers, but they sure are loud.

    • akattak1 - Jun 12, 2013 at 11:54 AM

      You’re probably right, unfortunately you’ll never see it happen at Jeld Wen. It would be incredible to see, but Merritt Paulson already burned that bridge saying he would never install temp grass, and USMNT won’t play a qualifier on FieldTurf. Basically, they have no incentive to go Portland over Seattle right now. Check back when PDX gets a full-size, grass pitch.

      • akattak1 - Jun 12, 2013 at 11:58 AM

        Something I just though, maybe Autzen is willing to install temp grass for a game? US fans would travel to Eugene for the game, and Autzen would actually be a perfect spot. Not PDX, but sure close enough to make it work.

    • rgod8855 - Jun 12, 2013 at 2:04 PM

      As a Seattle fan, I’m all for Portland getting a qualifier. I just wish they could expand J-W field to host a crowd fitting for the support of area. The Vancouver-Seattle-Portland rivalry is one of the best in U.S. sports. Let it grow.

    • charliej11 - Jun 12, 2013 at 2:18 PM

      I went to the game in ’97 in Portland. It was beyond belief. Portland, to state an obvious FACT, will crush a WCQ.

  5. kane337 - Jun 12, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    Well done Seattle. “We are going, we are going to Braziiiiiiiiil”

  6. charliej11 - Jun 12, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    I didn’t know I needed vindicating, but I am very glad to be vindicated. I did my best, really all anyone could ask.

  7. charliej11 - Jun 12, 2013 at 2:23 PM

    I don’t think that Seattle fans are any better, although we do stand the whole game, every game.
    There are just more and we are lucky to have enough that the city has to take notice. When the city takes notice they build a stadium for football AND soccer.

    The best stadium in soccer….That stadium does not get built for just football.
    That is as close to fact as you can get with an opinion.

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