Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New Soccer Team Stokes Seattle’s Passion

Fans Jordan McDonald, with the horn, and Phil Andrus, with the spiked hair, go all out for the Sounders soccer team at Qwest Field in Seattle.
Now, that's liking the game. I wonder if peoples in other lands paint themselves?

Freddie Ljungberg, a European soccer star and world-class player, is a member of the Sounders.
When the new Swede arrived in the new Seattle, he needed no ax or fishing net, the tools of so many other Scandinavian immigrants who had come before. Instead he wore shorts, and when his name was called on his first day at work — “Freddie Ljungberg!” — 28,000 people erupted.

“They sold it to me that the fans are special here,” Mr. Ljungberg said Saturday night in the locker room at Qwest Field here, just after playing his first minutes at midfield for an American professional soccer team, the new Seattle Sounders FC. “And I must say, they are.”

Even in a city that has supported professional football, baseball and basketball teams for decades, many people say that something else is at work in the instant passion for the Sounders. They say it reflects the region’s well-established affection for soccer but also its conviction that it is not quite like the rest of America. When Seattle cheers the Sounders, it cheers its civic image.

“Soccer is kind of the alternative sport for the United States,” said J. B. Wogan, 24, a reporter for a suburban weekly newspaper. “And Seattle is kind of an alternative city.”

Maybe, finally, futbol is catching on in the US. Kids play it all over, but the game has no real presence on a professional level.

Sounders soccer games at Qwest Field have been selling out.

The early version of the Sounders sometimes drew more than 20,000 fans, but by the mid-1980s, the Sounders and the league were gone. When Major League Soccer began play in 1996, Seattle was left out. The area only had a minor league team until now.

It all comes at a time when Seattle has plenty to be glum about. It lost its professional basketball team, the Sonics, to Oklahoma City last year. Across from Qwest Field, the cranes at the Port of Seattle are not as busy as they once were. Unemployment is rising quickly.

“We seem to have struck a chord and been a pretty good story in a relatively dim landscape,” said Adrian Hanauer, the team’s general manager and one of its owners. “That’s fine for now, but we know that this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kind of business. We have to deliver on the pitch and connect to our fans.”

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