(Seattle, WA) — Would the big local crowds that have filled Qwest Field to watch their Sounders play all season long come out to watch the MLS Cup Final? Would supporters from Los Angeles and Salt Lake City make the trek to the Pacific Northwest to watch their clubs compete for the Championship. Would the television audience for ESPN’s broadcast continue the strong ratings earned in the previous rounds of the 2009 playoffs? I am here to report a strong affirmative on all counts — well done to all the soccer supporters here in Seattle and across the country. Your enthusiasm for MLS made for a memorable weekend in the Emerald City.
The signs that Seattle had truly embraced the label of being a soccer-mad city were evident from the top of the Space Needle to the streets surrounding Qwest Field. MLS Cup 2009 Banners hung from lampposts, storefronts were decorated with soccer themes, and various vendors were stocked up with Cup merchandise. Meanwhile in Seattle Center Park, crews spent the week painting on the logos of the Galaxy and Real Salt Lake upon the roof of the iconic Seattle tower. Additionally, the pattern of the official MLS soccer ball framed a painted replica of the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy. And while the images were only visible by helicopter (or Space Needle web-cams), they literally capped off the great build-up the MLS Cup generated this year.
On game day, Real Salt Lake fans and Galaxy fans roamed the streets of downtown Seattle resplendent in their team’s colors while wearing a varied catalog of team scarves — definitely needed on a blustery day in the low 40’s! The fish mongers at Pike Place Market gleefully flung the huge halibut and salmon over the heads of the fans, including myself as I ventured too close to the merchant’s wares. I witnessed the occasional dueling chants that rang out from small cadres of Galaxy and RSL supporters groups — complete with drums and horns in many cases — on the streets surrounding the iconic marketplace.
I ran into supporters from other MLS cities as well. Proudly wearing their DC United gear, Art and Nick were taking in the scene for the weekend. They came to Seattle to participate in the MLS Supporters Summit program the day before, but were really looking forward to the final match later that evening. For Nick, this was his 14th MLS Cup Final — a perfect attendance record since the inception of the league — and he could name no better host city than Seattle. Well, he did promise that DC would represent well if they ever could get a stadium built!
Atop the Space Needle, fans posed for pictures on the observation deck holding aloft their scarves and framing the distant downtown and Qwest Field stadium. Inside, staying out of the lunchtime rain, I ran into the principal owner of the Philadelphia Union, Jay Sugarman, who was enjoying the sights from 520 feet in the air. He hoped that his expansion club would find the same support and excitement in the Philadelphia area that he saw from the Sounders FC fans in Seattle. With progress on their stadium in Chester proceeding well, and the introduction of their home uniform for 2010 this week, Sugarman was looking forward to assembling his club ahead of next season. I asked him not to take any Earthquakes in the expansion draft this Wednesday, but he couldn’t promise me anything!
As the afternoon continued and the weather improved to just overcast skies, the streets near Pioneer Square began filling up with Sounders supporters preparing for their traditional “March to the Match.” But instead of a uniform field of rave green uniforms, hundreds of red and blue clad RSL supporters and blue and gold Galaxy supporters joined in, filling the square to capacity. Kasey Keller and James Riley of the Sounders were there, as well as MLS Commissioner Don Garber, all mingling with the crowd of revelers. The famous Seattle Sounders FC marching band was filling the air with music, though they were often drowned out by the chants of the fans. At just under 2 hours from kick-off, the whole assemblage marched down Occidental Avenue toward Qwest Field in anticipation of the match.
Outside the stadium large groups of Real Salt Lake supporters jumped and danced around, they appeared to outnumber the Galaxy fans by at least 3 to 1. Shame on you Los Angeles fans, I expected better representation! The celebrations continued, when at one point a group of street musicians were co-opted into providing the backing music for a choir of Galaxy supporters. The spontaneous show of revelry was equally inspiring and entertaining. In the large pre-game celebration zone, MLS players like Stuart Holden, Fredy Montero, Jimmy Conrad, Dwayne De Rosario, and others regaled patient lines of fans with handshakes and autographs. You could even get your picture taken with the MLS Cup.
As the game got underway, a capacity crowd of over 46,000 spectators rocked Qwest Field, with the sentiment certainly leaning toward the underdog Real Salt Lake. An occasional Sounders chant was heard, but more often it was the roars of approval for excellent play from both squads. I counted fans wearing uniforms from all 15 MLS clubs in attendance while wandering through the crowd. Notably, a couple of steadfast Houston Dynamo fans held aloft a bright orange Dynamo banner near midfield for much of the match. And true to my heart, I even met some Portsmouth FC faithful that now called Seattle home — Play Up Pompey!
Confetti storms that turned Qwest Field into the largest snow-globe on earth, cheerleaders urging on fans of both clubs, even a couple of attractive “trophy babes” escorting the MLS Cup into the stadium — the league went all out to provide a fantastic event to crown their champion. Oh yeah, the game was so exciting that no one wanted to see it end — this final goes down as the longest match in the 14 year history of the playoffs. I will never forget the great hosts in Seattle for making the 2009 MLS Cup Final weekend such a wonderful experience. Thank you!