The Seattle Sounders will one day unseat the NFL as king of American sports. Or so says Britian’s top sportswriter, Martin Samuel. On the eve of the renewal of the best rivalry in American soccer, let’s take a moment to remember who rules MLS. Writing in the Daily Mail, Samuel says:
Their [Seattle Sounders] average attendance last season — 43,734 — would put them sixth in the Premier League behind Manchester United, Arsenal, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Liverpool.
They are the best supported club in the Americas, with the exception of River Plate of Argentina, and the 27th best supported in the world. If they could persuade another 2,000 people to commit in a city with an area population of 3.6 million, they would be inside the top 20.
There was a fraction under 40,000 people to watch the match against San Jose and Seattle’s management would have been disappointed with that. They share the stadium with the Seattle Seahawks NFL franchise and most of the upper tier remains closed off for all but local derbies. Yet those average 55,533.
Major League Soccer is coming to realise that the key to growth is rivalry, which is why New York now has two teams and Los Angeles is getting more. Hinton, a United States resident since 1977 and a former coach and club president at the Sounders, says major cities are queuing up to get a team of their own, Atlanta the latest on that list. The fans don’t know football the way they do NFL, he says, but one day they will. Maybe sooner than anyone anticipated.
I always love looking at those attendance figures: 6th in the EPL, and second in the whole hemisphere only to River Plate. Counting the gate is usually for the CPAs and front office-types. But in a sport still fighting for legitimacy, the massive drawing power of Seattle needs to be celebrated. But that isn’t all, the game must improve for actual change to take place. Samuel goes on:
So what happens next? This is where it gets interesting. The football isn’t the best right now, but that hardly matters. It is improving and, as it does, so will commercial interest. Then, if soccer in America capitalises on the fears around NFL, it could grow rapidly. And once the money comes in, we know from experience, so will the players. And not just for the last hurrah, either.
If soccer began to generate the wealth of other frontline sports in the United States, it would start to capture players at 25, not 35 — or at least pique the interest of their agents.
America would keep the best players generated by its academies, too, because a country that sings the national anthem before every sports event is aching to promote homegrown heroes.
Imagine if the super-fast young men now schooled to be wide receivers became wingers instead; or played off the shoulder of the last defender? In a country of 319 million, have no doubt the talent is there.
This is a drum I’ve been beating for quite some time: when young athletes choose soccer over football or basketball, we will win the World Cup. Think of LeBron or Cam Newton in a red, white and blue kit. Or better yet in Rave Green.