Ian Palmer

Seattle Sounders have given the MLS a much-needed boost on and off the pitch this season as they lead the league in both attendance and merchandise sales, and also look to be a sure bet to make the playoffs. Not bad for a team in its first year of existence.

The Sounders are the 15th and latest club to join the growing North American league and are on the verge of becoming the first expansion team to make the playoffs since the Miami Fusion did it in 1998.

The new kids on the block have been such a success in their inaugural season that the team management had to increase the capacity of their home ground, Qwest Stadium, from 27,000 a game to the current 32,400 midway through the season. The club averages about 30,204 fans a match, which is just about double the MLS average of 15,559. Seattle set a league record this year by selling close to 24,000 season tickets and are almost certain to eclipse the record average attendance set by the Los Angeles Galaxy (28,916) back when the league first kicked off in 1996.

Seattle Sounders actually play in the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks’ stadium and the American football team also owns a share of the soccer club. While the upper section of the stadium is closed off for MLS games, Seattle has still proved to be a huge soccer city by packing over 65,000 fans into Qwest Field when Chelsea paid a visit this summer and then reaching close to the capacity of 67,000 a few weeks later when they hosted Barcelona. 

While marriages between American football and soccer teams don’t always have a happy ending, this one seems to be going strong, although it is still in the honeymoon stage. The experience and expertise of the NFL club realises the differences between the two sports and has therefore catered to a market that is steeped in soccer.

This isn’t the first pro soccer team to give it a go in Seattle though, as the city had a thriving North American Soccer League (NASL) team that disintegrated back in 1983, just before the league itself bit the dust. It also had a team in the United Soccer Leagues Division I, up until last season. 

However, this version of Seattle’s team has taken the city and league by storm so far because it has a solid ownership base, including Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and comedian Drew Carey. Having XBOX emblazoned across the team’s jerseys doesn’t hurt either as the sponsorship deal is reportedly valued at US $20M over five years. And because the Sounders and Seahawks play during different seasons, the market doesn't really have a lot of competition other than the Seattle Mariners Major League baseball team.

On the pitch, the owners have done a great job of building a solid team. Sigi Schmid, who coached Columbus Crew to the 2008 MLS championship and the Galaxy to the 2002 title, was lured away and signed as coach. He has shown he isn’t afraid to go after results and will often use three strikers to do so. He was joined by Swedish midfielder and former Arsenal star Freddie Ljungberg, along with veteran American goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who starred in the English Premier League and German Bundesliga for several years. Up front Colombian international Freddy Montero was added to spearhead the attack, and he has done just that with 12 goals in 24 games. Talented youngster Steve Zakuani was taken by the Sounders first overall in the MLS’ SuperDraft and has progressed nicely.

The rest of the squad is basically made up of a group of hard-working players who may not be recognised outside of their hometowns, but they have come together on the pitch and accomplished quite a bit in a short period of time.

Seattle became the first MLS expansion club to win their first three games, and all of them came with clean sheets to boot. They became the second expansion team ever to win the US Open Cup tournament and also recently put an end to current MLS champions Columbus Crew’s 24-game home unbeaten streak with a 1-0 win.

Fans have taken the team to their hearts and according to MLS, Seattle is first in the league when it comes to merchandise sales and Ljungberg's jersey is fourth in the player named shirt sales, trailing only David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Cuauhtemoc Blanco. The club also have its own 52-member marching band, called the Sound Wave, along with five independent supporter groups.

Perhaps the only thing that could make the Sounders first season more Cinderella-like, would be for them to win the 2009 MLS Cup, which coincidentally will be held in Seattle. And you can bet if they do make it to the final, the upper sections of Qwest Field will be opened up, and then 67,000 seats still won’t be enough.


Related Articles:



Dallas 09/10 Home Shirt
        Real Salt Lake 09/10 Home Shirt

Dallas 09/10 home shirt                      Real Salt Lake 09/10 home shirt