Fan Focus: Seattle Sounders FC and their Amazing Culture

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Whether or not the standard of football in Major League Soccer is improving is a topic of debate that American soccer fans across the country will discuss for years to come. Signings like Robbie Keane, Thierry Henry, David Beckham, Tim Cahill, Alessandro Nesta, and other excellent players that have traded their top football leagues around the world have only increased the exposure to the unique experience what MLS has to offer. It is clear to see that Major League Soccer is indeed growing.

Attracting the world’s best talent and attempting to grow some of the world’s best talent aren’t the only hurdles the American league has faced in its young nineteen-year existence. The power of a strong sports culture leads fans down roads that oftentimes make little sense. I’ve met soccer fans all over the country who support teams around the world, and never once did I stop to think it was odd. Meeting a Barcelona mad fan in Los Angeles or an Arsenal mad fan in New York is hardly grounds for breaking news. To think that someone who lives in LA and has never been to the Camp Nou, let alone the city of Barcelona, buys a Barcelona kit every single year, keeps track of every single game, and can list every single player in the first team squad (including some of the reserves) should technically make me pause and question said person. I never do, though, because that one person is joined by millions of others around the world encapsulated in soccer culture.

So never mind the fact that Major League Soccer is doing everything it can to provide the best talent possible for its league, the average American soccer fan is caught in a time where soccer culture is growing at an incredible rate in the States. And while some fans continue to buy the shirts, scarves, jackets, and everything else of their favorite teams abroad, some fans have turned their emotional and monetary allegiance to their own cities in their own country. One such city lies peacefully in the Pacific Northwest and is home to Seattle Sounders FC.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit some of the largest, most exciting stadia around the world. I’ve attended the Manchester derby at Old Trafford, seen the North London derby at the Emirates, watched Juventus and AC Milan battle it out at the San Siro, and caught multiple games at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City. The fans around the world are crazy. In England, various rules ban fans from showing their support the best way possible in terms of banners, flares and flags, but the fans have adapted and oftentimes put on a show with their singing, celebrating, and reaction to the game. In Italy, the rules are much more relaxed, and massive banners with multiple meanings are regularly put on display throughout matches. The smoke from lit flares makes the playing area hazy while the sulfuric stench makes breathing difficult at times. Regardless of odor or visibility, though, the crowd creates an amazing atmosphere that pictures and videos can hardly capture.

So comes my applause for the fans of Seattle. Despite being a relative newcomer to Major League Soccer, the club has become arguably the most exciting city to play in around the country. For one, the club knows how to get people to come to their games. Every year the club manages to break their own average attendance record for the league – most recently, in 2011, averaging just over 38,000 fans a game. What an achievement, especially considering markets like Dallas and Washington D.C average around 12,000 and 15,000 respectively.

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What impresses me the most about Seattle, however, isn’t the fact that they are packing nearly 40,000 fans into CenturyLink Field on the regular, but more so the culture those fans have adopted and come to love. I had the pleasure of being in attendance at last year’s US Open Cup final against the Chicago Fire, and while walking to the game from my hotel, I happened to accidentally stumble into a rather raucous gathering in Occidental Park, about a half mile from the stadium. Green scarves, green jerseys, green hair, green face paint, green everything surrounded me. My timing was perfect – as I approached the mass of fans, the group started moving down Occidental Avenue towards the stadium. Thousands of fans, with hands and scarves held above their heads were singing and chanting in unison. Green flares and smoke grenades went off everywhere, and I found myself walking through a green haze, completely immersed in what any true soccer fan around the world would call a ‘proper atmosphere.’

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I hadn’t even arrived to the stadium yet, and I had what appeared to be a massive grin over my face. What I enjoy about going to watch the biggest teams in the world play when I get to travel is the display on the field as well as well as the experience the spectators bring. I hadn’t been to a game in the States until that night where I really felt as if I was at a soccer game. Our American soccer culture is getting there, slowly but surely, but for those lucky fans in Seattle, soccer has arrived and with authority.

Seattle’s famous “March to the Match” was just the beginning for me. Along the walk I saw people gathering, drinking, eating, singing, and preparing for the match ahead. Seattle’s fan base has a unique punk-rock, grunge to it that I couldn’t help but love. As much as I support the family environment soccer has created in the States, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing twenty-something year old girls with green mo-hawks and Sounders scarves wrapped around their faces, singing as if their world depended on it.

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The singing didn’t stop after I entered the stadium, and the large Tifo that emerged behind one goal just before the game was certainly a site to see. A large grim reaper took watch over three headstones and caskets with the middle one being the Chicago Fire, their opponents in the Final. The fans clapped and sang in unison, creating a deafening roar in the process.

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If there’s ever an award for best 12th man, then my vote goes to Seattle. The energy, passion, and dedication their fans had for their team the night I saw them play was truly spectacular. Seattle fans embrace their city’s local vibe and enunciate it on a weekly basis through 40,000 fans. As soccer continues to push forward in the States and MLS continues to grow, I hope clubs everywhere use Seattle as a benchmark. What is amazing to me is that Seattle doesn’t have a Thierry Henry or David Beckham to drive ticket sales and fill seats. Freddie Ljungberg spent a year in Seattle, but the fans were already coming before his arrival and have continued to come after his departure. The fans in Seattle are genuinely in love with their city and with their team. The passion doesn’t stem around the front office’s ability to pay millions for a huge name – instead, the passion stems around the culture of the city and the game. I hope for the sake of our league, and for the future of soccer in our country that people are taking notes.

MLS fans everywhere – do you agree? Is Seattle THE place to watch a game for atmosphere?

2 Comments on "Fan Focus: Seattle Sounders FC and their Amazing Culture"

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  1. Sounders scarves | Fatcityjamband | September 5, 2012
  1. spiderd10@hotmail.com spiderd10@hotmail.co says:

    Amazing to see football grow in USA. Believe I read where friendly against ManU had over 65,000 fans. Most clubs in Europe and Brazil would die for that type of attendance.

    Personally, the true passion of the fans here in Brazil has amazed me. The atmosphere at a derby between Flamengo and Fluminense is unreal

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