The first MLS game I ever watched was the 2006 MLS Cup. Right after the World Cup got me hopelessly obsessed with soccer as a sport, and right before I signed up for all of the youth programs my parents could afford, this was the first time that I ever watched MLS teams play against each other.
This wasn't the first time that I had encountered MLS as a brand. That honor goes to Poptropica, or one of those other websites that existed in the mid-2000s that were branded cereal Flash game websites, because they had a penalty kick game that had MLS teams that you could pick. I liked the Earthquakes the best, for reasons that I can't quite remember. I actually don't remember knowing that the Earthquakes had turned into the Houston Dynamo at any point before MLS Cup happened, but I was aware of it, so I was somewhat rooting for the Dynamo. I also liked Taylor Twellman so I was okay with the Revolution winning the game. I was eleven.
The three earliest professional soccer moments that I remember are these:
1) the US scoring against Italy in the World Cup.
2) getting home from church just in time to turn on the tv and watch Zidane headbutt a guy.
3) the second overtime of the 2006 MLS Cup, which, to this day, is one of the more nuts things that I've ever seen in my entire life. As a kid, I was allegedly a good goalkeeper, but after seeing that? Striker was all I wanted to do. I was hooked.
My first experience with the Sounders came through the Washington Youth Soccer Association. They had a newspaper thing that they would send to your house if you signed up for it called Play On!, I think. That means that I never watched the USL Sounders but I read about them winning the USL Championship in 2007. I also read about the MLS team that was oncoming, and very nearly voted for the new team name for the MLS team. Even while fantasizing about how cool it would be if they picked your name to be the name for the MLS team, thirteen-year-old me knew that it would feel wrong for the team to be named anything other than the Sounders.
And then... I stopped paying attention. At the very peak of my soccer career (a bad player on a bad JV team) I wasn't paying attention to the single soccer franchise anywhere close to where I lived. I didn't start paying attention again until 2011. This had nothing to do with a lack of interest on my part, but a lack of access.
In 2011 I found out that there were places that I would be able to watch the Sounders online. The kind of places that I wouldn't be allowed to link to on forums like this. I have no idea how I found the first one of these streams, but once I found them, I could watch the Sounders again. And I didn't stop. Every time I had the chance to watch the Sounders legally, I went out of my way to do so. This includes being somewhat excited to be staying in a hotel after the house I lived in almost burned down so that I could watch the Sounders legally only to be rewarded with the match on April 22, 2011. It meant hogging all the internet to watch the Sounders play against Portland on ESPN3 back when it was free and running around the house screaming after Ozzie made the game 3-2. I was sixteen.
Since then, I've done a lot. I lived in Boston for a year and a half before going to school in Bellingham. I've been to four Sounders game in total, and they were all very special experiences. I got to lose my mind watching the Sounders win the Supporters Shield and watched the Sounders win MLS Cup in a bar in Boston on my birthday. The Sounders are a massive part of who I am as a person, I guess.
The Sounders announced today that they were "expanding [their] YouTube TV footprint throughout the full state of Washington, providing Sounders fans from Seattle to Spokane to the Tri-Cities the ability to watch local Sounders matches on YouTube TV," which on paper sounds great. The East Side, especially the Tri-Cities (where I grew up) is a massively untapped market for the Sounders. When volunteering in the Tri, I would show some of the refugees that I was working with clips of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, just so that they would have an idea about what kind of soccer gets played outside of La Liga or the Premier League.
I think about eleven-year-old me, a kid who's first experience with MLS happened only because they showed MLS Cup on ABC for a couple of years. What good does a YouTube TV that I couldn't afford do to grow the fandom of that kid? As a kid, I was so eager for MLS content that I would go onto YouTube and watch the highlight packages that they put up as if they were real games, intentionally avoiding looking at the scores in the description just so that I could go through the emotions of watching a real match. (This meant that I was an LA fan when they were awful for a few years.)
The worst part about this YouTube TV deal is that it implies that free, over-the-air Sounders matches are going to be almost entirely gone as a possibility. Instead of working to make a connection with east side television providers, the matches will be "available through YouTube" and the team has no incentive to make those matches free.The only reason that I'm a Sounders fan today is that I had the energy to go seek out the Sounders in spots that probably filled my computer with viruses from misclicked sketchy advertisements. If the goal of this was to build the Sounders brand on the East Side, this isn't going to do it.