If Saturday's game seems a bit less ECS-y, even by away-game standards, there's an easy explanation: The Seattle Sounders' biggest supporters' group is boycotting the game. You may have heard about this a few months ago when ticket prices were announced. Tickets that Sounders fans were used to paying about $25 for were suddenly jacked up to $53 and ECS was understandably displeased.
The reason? This will be the first-ever live sporting event to be held at Levi's Stadium, the San Francisco 49ers' $1.3 billion palace. It's a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" the Earthquakes trumpeted, "we have to charge more." ECS decided they didn't really need to be gouged in order for the Earthquakes to put on a better show, there was a bit of back and forth with Earthquakes president Dave Kaval and we all moved on with our lives.
Turns out "once-in-a-lifetime" experience means different things to different people, apparently, because today there's a story in the San Jose Mercury News suggesting the Earthquakes are considering the possibility of hosting the Sounders at Levi's every year.
The Earthquakes, in conjunction with MLS officials, haven't decided on opponents for the games at Levi's. But Kaval said San Jose could face Seattle each year to add to the rivalry the 49ers have with the Seahawks.
First off, it seems rather silly to base this decision on whatever is happening in the NFL. I'll accept that the 49ers and Seahawks have a pretty good rivalry going and even that the Earthquakes are really trying to create something similar with the Sounders. But I'm not sure if there's any real hope of the Sounders and their fans ever reciprocating that emotion. As it stands now, the Earthquakes are no better than fifth on the list of teams Sounders fans feel a rivalry toward; certainly behind the Timbers and Whitecaps and probably behind the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake as well.
Yes, they play for the Heritage Cup but I'd be willing to bet that most of the players on either team are only passingly aware of it and Sounders treated winning it last year as an utter joke.
Now, I suppose there's the possibility that Kaval and the Earthquakes are doing this in an effort to get a rise out of Sounders fans. In some ways, I suppose that would stoke the rivalry's flames. But if this is about making the games in San Jose feel like a rivalry, they are going about it all wrong.
Continuing to host the Sounders at Levi's Stadium only serves to diminish the potential of this developing into a genuine rivalry. As long as the Earthquakes play the Sounders there and as long as they charge double what they'd normally charge away fans, ECS will almost certainly continue to boycott the game. As long as ECS boycotts the game, there's going to be a palpable lack of rivalry feel inside the stadium.
If, however, the Earthquakes want to host the Sounders at Levi's, I'd hope they take a similar tact as they do with their big-stadium games against the LA Galaxy. In the games at Stanford Stadium, prices are much more in line with normal games. They bring in close to 50,000 people. It feels like a big event, partly because Galaxy fans are there too. It's not outside the realm of possibility that the Earthquakes could create something similar -- even if on a much smaller rivalry scale -- with the Sounders. But they'll need Sounders fans to play their part. Let's hope the Earthquakes realize that.