Here's a thing I've decided to do, despite the fact that MFUSA is no longer a viable soccer blog; re-blog things I've written in the distant past. Sometimes they'll be MFUSA pieces from the 3+ years of the site's existence, and sometimes they'll be things I wrote for other outlets. In this case, I'm posting a column I wrote for the defunct (and no longer extant, so there's not even a link) MLS Daily on the Sounders debut in March of 2009. Enjoy, or not. - Jason
For Major League Soccer, success is often measured in small victories. It’s a few teams in the black, able to claim they are no longer money-hemorrhaging ventures. It’s a player sold to a richer, stronger league for a relatively modest sum. It’s television ratings or attendance numbers that would be disappointing for other American sports products, but represent progress for a league struggling to gain mainstream traction. Often, success for MLS is barely viewed as such by those unwilling to believe that soccer has a future in the United States.
But last night, in a northwestern American city with a long and rich soccer history, success for Major League Soccer was undeniable. It was unqualified, unabashed, and unburdened by any of the usual caveats. The newly minted Seattle Sounders took to the pitch at Qwest Field in front of 33,000 singing, screaming, scarf-wielding fans, all eager to watch their hometown boys pull off a victory in their inaugural match. After weeks of ever-increasing buildup, expectation and talk, the Seattle Sounders and their supporters did something that is so rarely accomplished in American soccer circles: They lived up to the hype.
In the stands, the Sounders fans created a proper soccer atmosphere with a distinctly American feel. Loud, engaged, and enthusiastic, the crowd seemed less trend-following neophytes and more fully committed converts, ready to follow their new team wherever the journey might take them. While one game does not build a reputation, and the Sounders fans will need to prove themselves over the course of time, they have already shown that Qwest Field will have one of the most appealing stadium environments in all of MLS. Last night’s atmosphere, which was undoubtedly more impressive in person, added a palpable buzz to the television broadcast, an element that is so often missing from MLS matches.
On the pitch, the Sounders thrashed the New York Red Bulls, MLS Cup finalists only a season ago, by a score of 3-0 and did so in fully dominant fashion. Columbian wunderkind Freddy Montero put home two of those goals, a performance that is sure to set off wild speculation about the young striker’s potential haul in his rookie season. Ageless goalkeeper and hometown hero Kasey Keller kept a clean sheet, and youngsters like goal scorer Brad Evans and first overall draft pick Steve Zakuani played prominent roles. Everything went right for the boys in Rave Green, and the newest franchise in MLS got off to what can only be described as a "rousing" start.
The most important victory however, despite the Sounders resounding win, had nothing to do with the play on the field. The real triumph, the real parade worthy achievement that everyone should be talking about, belongs to Major League Soccer. Both as a professional sports competition and as a bankable entertainment product, MLS emerges from Seattle’s big night a more polished version of itself. Through innovative marketing, word of mouth, and a community-wide interest in the game that defies the typical American attitude, Seattle Sounders FC and the people of their city have set a new standard for soccer in the United States. Their success is now not only the new bar for the rest of the league's franchises, but also a public relations coup for MLS, a selling point for future endeavors, and a shining example of what can be achieved despite soccer's pauper status on the American sports scene.
Major League Soccer has chosen leverage its moderate success into rapid expansion, a strategy that could easily backfire in a faltering economy. Instead, Seattle’s big night seems to validate the league’s efforts, and only serves to heighten the anticipation that will build for each successive new entry into the league. Philadelphia, Vancouver, and Portland will benefit from the lessons learned and the success achieved in Seattle; if properly marketed as the Sounders were, we’ll be talking about similarly exciting nights in each of those cities when their big moments come. America’s first division soccer league can now move forward with a new pleat in its cape, a new mark in the win column that even the league’s most vocal doubters cannot ignore.
To be clear, last night’s victories, both in the stands and on the pitch, most properly belongs to the city of Seattle, an American city that has wholeheartedly embraced the world’s game on a scale rarely seen within these borders. Still, Major League Soccer, both as a league and as an enterprise, will quite rightly bask in the afterglow, ready to move into its future even more confident that soccer can succeed in America. If the doubters scoff, if the naysayers sneer, if the unconverted claim that the game will never make it and that Americans simple won’t pay to watch it, those of us in the know can point to Seattle’s big night and say, “See?”