One day I was sitting in my parents living room playing some FIFA 07 on my dads big screen TV. He came home from work, saw I was downstairs and came down to say hello. All of the sudden he was fixed on the screen. He sat down next to me.
"Who is playing?" he asked me.
Well, my suspicion was confirmed that he hadn't suddenly taken interest in video games, which he hates. On a big screen, Hi-def TV, it is easy to confuse FIFA for XBOX with live soccer. But, I digress. Was it possible? After years of attending my middle school and high school soccer games because he had to, had my father suddenly taken interest in the world's game?
It was. My dad had been hooked on soccer. For a couple months, my pops would take a seat with me on Saturdays and Sundays while I watched hours of matches on FSC.
It all began August 2006, when I convinced him to take me to QWest field in Seattle, to see my favorite club Real Madrid face off against DC United. The place was sold out and absolutely rocking. The atmosphere was great and the match was surprisingly competitive, ending in a 1-1 draw. One could feel a buzz in the air both entering and leaving the stadium. It was the type of enthusiasm, though lacking the hometown pride and alcoholism, that I have seen at Seahawks games.
The effect of seeing a quality on-field product in a passionate environment converted my dad, at least temporarily, into a soccer fan. Can a MLS team in Seattle make converts of other average Seattle sports fans? Is "Big Lo" going to show up to the games with home-made signs and dried mustard on the corner of his mouth? Does the MLS expect Seattle, a city renowned for being an insignificant and oft-forgotten backwater in the world of sports (NFL, MLB, NBA), to be so crucial to the development of the league?
The answer to the latter seems to be a resounding yes. From the beginning, it seems league executives from the MLS are placing high hopes in the success of the Seattle franchise and making exceptions to make sure it happens. It was league executives who advised team owners to avoid the Sounders name, fearing it wouldn't translate well in Japan. It was also MLS executives who granted the Seattle Sounders FC exclusive rights to singing players of the original Seattle Sounders.
This MAJOR exception is the only thing even remotely similar to a farm system in all of the MLS. Not only that, but already having several players on the roster before the expansion draft gives the Seattle team a decided advantage. No other expansion team has enjoyed such a privilege.
Fast forward to April 2008, and it is Dan Courtemanche, senior vice president of marketing and communications for the MLS, asking for that favor to be returned. After observing a 50,000 + crowd attend the Mexico v. China game, Courtemanche dropped some suggestive comments for the Seattle franchise, "It (the game) showcases the opportunity that exists for the Sounders when they come into Major League Soccer, depending on the personnel they put on the field." He went on to say, "When you put a quality product on the field, the opportunity exists to have a large fan following. We've seen it already with what the Sounders have done with 14,000 season-ticket deposits, and that's a tremendous start. But this takes the brand to the next level when you see this tonight."
Translate, "depending on the personnel they put on the field," and I come up with, "you guys better sign a big name player that is gonna sell some more tickets." Signing a soccer superstar would clearly fill the seats at QWest field. I have no doubt that a guy like Henry or Nakamura would sell out the first Sounders FC game and beyond. A quality on-field product could attract current fans and new converts alike. We know that there will be a gaping and painful hole left by the stolen Sonics, and MLS in Seattle may be just the remedy to help mend the broken hearts of Seattle sports fans.
It is interesting to me that the MLS has put such great expectations for a team from Seattle. In a country rife with East-coast sports bias (the NFC East is the best division in the NFL my ass), and huge entertainment markets (LA, NYC, Houston), I am flattered that the MLS expects so much of our little city. I only hope, both as a league supporter and a Sounders fan, that it works out for the both of us. Well, that and my dad buys a couple of season tickets.