Sorry Revolution, I Cheated…

It’s no secret that I’ve been an admirer of the success that the Seattle Sounders have had since joining MLS, heck… who hasn’t admired its success.   I’ve asked it to stop rubbing its success in our collective New England faces and I’ve gone as far as to call it my soccer mistress.

Well, that mistress and I, we finally went all the way.

After countless business trips to the greater Seattle area, I finally made it to a Sounders Game, as they beat the Colorado Rapids last night.  I was in the second level, first row, mid-field line.  Arguably, for a non-chanting supporter, the best seat in the house.

And in all honesty, I’m struggling with how to describe about it in any reasonable way relative to what my “norm” is within MLS.

You see, I have been lucky enough to be at games in many countries, and attended matches in many of the most revered stadiums in the world but I cannot compare games I’ve seen in London, Milan, Rio de Janeiro, etc. to Foxboro.  Far too different, far too distant, far too much history for that.

But, in theory, this game should be similar.  And in many ways, it was.

But in just as many ways, I might as well have been back in Barcelona or Lisbon watching a game.  It was THAT different.

To really take it all in, I wanted a true feel for the club’s atmosphere… so I didn’t just go to the game.

I drank (anonymously) with its supporters at the bar Fuel, which is a key pre-game locale.

I listened to the Sound Wave marching band. (Hey, no snickering.)

I walked (marched?) behind the supporters as they chanted through the streets from Occidental park to Qwest Stadium – in a tide of awkward teals, electric greens, clowns (yes, clowns) and synchronized arm-waving and singing.

I went into the stadium pro-Shop and local sports stores.

I bought a darn scarf.  (OK, I do this for most games I travel to, cut me some slack…)

There’s too much here for me to mentally recall, digest and describe in any reasonable amount of time and blog-space, so you will be seeing a few more posts about this event (it is an event) and comparisons to the New England Revolution’s game-day experience.

But I will note these few observations from my day in Seattle:

  • There were 36,000+ fans at a regular season MLS game, and they cared.  Period.
  • Without any facts to back it up, I wouldn’t be surprised if that in its brief existence, the MLS version of the Sounders has sold (or distributed) more scarves, jerseys and t-shirts than the Revolution have since the league began.  They were EVERYWHERE.
  • I was unable to attend the Sporting Lisbon v. Celtic game in Fenway Park, so I’ve not experienced a Boston “city soccer” experience, but it only reinforced for me the view that a city resident stadium could be a game changer.  (Duh.)
  • Soccer Specific Stadium?  Who needs it?  (Some sarcasm included.)  Not only does a Sounders crowd fill the stadium reasonably well, but the branding is much more balanced between the Seahawks and Sounders.   There are still some awkward NFL leftovers that are seen, but far less than at Gillette Stadium.  Be it MLS themed seat covering tarps, pictures in lobbies better co-located with NFL shots or having the Sounders logo on key doors and stadium fixtures with, or instead of, the Seahawks were all things that added up to  make a difference.

I have never been to an MLS game like it.   The MLS Cup in RFK a few years ago came close, and the 62K+ that watched the Revolution lose the MLS Cup final at home was interesting.  But neither had this level of involvement.

All that said, things are not perfect with any team.

There’s a great discussion from about a year ago over at Pitch Invasion, which I highly recommend.  It talks to concerns that the “atmosphere” around the games are too canned – being orchestrated by the club and pawned off on the fans.

I agree with nearly everything in this article, which suggests that the prepackaged nature of Seattle’s “event” are less long-lasting than the do it yourself variety that comes from a supporter’s club.   (Don’t underestimate the very strong supporter’s influence as well though.)

However, where there is not interest, you create some.  Where there is limited history (yes, I know the Sounders existed pre-MLS, but it didn’t really “exist” for most of that 36K+ fans…) you create some ties that bind.

Well, Seattle didn’t give out ties.  They gave out Scarves.   The Scarves promotion and over-the-top love affair that has overtaken Seattle get’s people to feel they belong.  And that’s what being a fan is often all about.

And Revs fans “belong” to this same group.  We do have things in common with the Seattle fans.  We both sit down.

Of course, the whole bottom bowl of Qwest stadium only sat down at halftime.

Which is, of course, when most Revolution fans stand up.

“We” have some work to do.