Soccer Capital of the US

Pitch perfect debut for Sounders FC

Seattle expansion club enjoys rousing First Kick experience

SEATTLE — Seattle Sounders FC could not have scripted their debut any better.

Let’s see, a pregame rally and a marching band to the stadium, led by the mayor, team owners and a well-known comedian.

A sellout crowd of 32,523.

An early goal that really revved up the spectators.

And to top it off, a 3-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls on Thursday night.

“It was everything you dreamed,” Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said. “The beauty in any game is in the final result and it was a beautiful result. Three-nothing at home in the opener for this franchise and MLS. The crowd was outstanding. The atmosphere was tremendous.”

Inside and outside the stadium on what was a dreary day weather-wise, defined by a constant drizzle.

While the game did not kickoff until about 6:35 p.m. PT, activities actually began some two hours prior at nearby Pioneer Square with a rally.

In the middle of it were general manager Adrian Hanauer, mayor Greg Nickels and comedian and team part-owner Drew Carey.

“We’re the stewards of this franchise,” Hanauer told the crowd. “I guarantee the team will bust their [butts] for you.”

“You need the management and a team. You need fans,” said Carey, who admitted he was speechless. “You’re the biggest piece of the puzzle.”

While Carey was talking, the sun came out.

Then came the march to Qwest Field, which the 53-strong Sound Wave, the team’s official band, will duplicate before each and every home game.

The pregame ceremonies at Qwest included the flags of the 192 countries that are members of the United Nations.

Owner Joe Roth said he was “so very proud that Seattle is the capital of soccer in this country.”

It might sound like hyperbole, but there hasn’t been anything seen like this for a new team since the league’s inaugural season in 1996.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who was given a special golden scarf for upholding the tradition of soccer, praised the fans and team for “setting a new standard for soccer in America.”

Garber then said, “Everyone take their scarves up,” as the stadium turned into a sea of green (later Garber said he had only seen atmosphere like this at Toronto FC in Canada, but never in the United States until Thursday night).

Behind one of the goals, the Sounders supporters then unfurled a huge green-and-blue huge banner that read:

Tonight Our
History Becomes
Legend

Indeed.

“Let’s get ready to kick some Red Bull butt!” Carey implored the crowd.

And guess what? Sounders FC complied and then some, becoming only the second MLS expansion team to win its first game (the Chicago Fire did in 1998, besting another expansion side that year). In fact, it was difficult to tell which side was the expansion team and which was entering its 14th season.

Colombian forward Fredy Montero emerged as the man of the hour, or better yet, the hour and a half. He scored twice and set up a third goal.

“They were great and we were there to meet their expectations,” Montero said through a translator. “This is the start of big things.”

What has transpired here hasn’t been by luck or haphazard.

The owners have laid the groundwork and it came to fruition this week. The fans named the team after the Seattle Sounders, who played in the old North American Soccer League and United Soccer Leagues First Division.

The team will allow the fans to vote out the general manager every four years if they think he isn’t doing a good job.

This certainly hasn’t been lost on the local media.

In the Seattle Times, Sounders FC were on the front page — not just in the sports section, but on the front page.

The above-the-fold headline on Wednesday:

SOUNDERS: All the Right Moves

On TV, they have been featured on all the newscasts, and not only in the sports report.

On Thursday’s 6 a.m. newscast on KING-5, the local NBC affiliate, it was the lead story.

“We’re going to preview the game and excitement,” the anchorwoman said.

“Soccer fever is here in Seattle,” the anchorman said.

Lead story!

Soccer fever!

Heck, KING-5 will broadcast Sounders FC Weekly on Sundays at 10:30 p.m.

And on yes, the top of the Space Needle, this city’s most visible structure, had its lights in blue and green.

And inside the Space Needle’s gift shop were Sounders FC souvenirs — jerseys, mugs and other interesting items that have been on sale for the past six months according to one cashier.

The next two expansion teams named as of Thursday — Philadelphia (2010) and Vancouver (2011) — certainly will have some tough acts to follow in terms of topping what transpired at Qwest Field on Thursday night.

Regardless what transpires in the future, for at least one night Seattle was the soccer capital of the United States.

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