By Quin Nelson
Quin Nelson grew up in Mill Creek and has been a sports fan his entire life. He graduated from Archbishop Murphy High School and will be a sophomore at Whitman College.
Squinting through the low sun peeking into CenturyLink Field, surrounded by rabid fans waving red scarves, I high-fived my neighbors and beamed at the spectacle in front of me.
The Sounders’ Eddie Johnson had just scored to put the U.S. men’s national team ahead 2-0 over Panama. The team players were celebrating and reveling in the embrace of the Seattle crowd. From my seat in the stands, it was clear: American soccer finally found its home.
In my young life as a Seattle sports fan, I have seen that the city has been going through a sports identity crisis. The city wants to love a team, but no one has truly grabbed our collective enthusiasm. The Washington Husky football revival is still in its infancy, and we are still all pretty traumatized from the program’s 0-12 nadir.
The Mariners are a horrid combination of bad and boring. I saw them play the Yankees a couple weeks ago and Yankees fans really enjoyed their 3-1 victory. The rest of us were stuck in garlic-fry food comas. It’s one thing to be bad, but the Mariners seem genuinely hopeless.
The Seahawks are in the midst of an exciting rise. Who doesn’t love Russell Wilson? But there is still a sense of disbelief in their success. It’s been so rapid that I feel it could end at any moment. What if Wilson has a sophomore slump? What if Pete Carroll retires to a life of surfing? Is every player on performance-enhancing drugs?
The struggles of these teams have certainly contributed to the embrace of the Sounders, who became an MLS team in 2007. I’ll confess that I was a skeptic at first. I had seen enough half-empty MLS stadiums on TV to know that the Sounders could end up having little impact on the local sports scene.
But when I went to my first game and joined the scarf-wearing masses, I could feel the genuine joy in the stadium. The support was strong, and it hasn’t let up largely because the team has not disappointed. The Sounders have been successful, but more important, have shown the commitment to get even better. We have brought in strong international players to go with national team contributors Johnson and Brad Evans. Even more exciting is Sounders Academy product DeAndre Yedlin, hopefully the first of many homegrown players to make the first team.
The U.S. national team’s victory in Seattle is especially sweet for us because we love soccer and always have. I saw it every weekend as a kid when I would play in soccer tournaments with acres of minivans and kids in cleats, and I see it now when those kids are packing CenturyLink in rave green.
But like most things in Washington, it has seemed to take a while for the rest of the nation to take notice. ESPN and Sports Illustrated came away pleasantly surprised at Seattle’s support during the Panama game, which is flattering but frustrating. They shouldn’t be surprised at our support. We’ve been doing this for years.
Now that the nation is aware, Seattle can truly take its throne as America’s soccer capital. Every national team match should be played here. Mexico plays all its matches at Azteca, which has given their team its identity. The U.S. national team should gain the same advantage from Seattle (just ask NFL defenses about CenturyLink crowds).
Meanwhile, the Sounders can be the Yankees or Celtics of the MLS, riding local enthusiasm to championships and national relevance.
Seattle can actually lead American soccer to success. This is exciting because it has never been done before. America has never had a popular professional soccer team, and Sounders FC can fill that void. America has never had a dominant national men’s team, and Seattle can become its home.
As we’ve known all along – and the country has just begun to notice – soccer in Seattle is a match made in heaven.
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