Right. What should three Derby fans and one Watford fan do on a trip to Seattle? Go up the Space Needle? See a burlesque show? Go to a Mission gig? Drink a wide variety of American craft beers and cocktails? Well, yes we did all of that but going to a Seattle Sounders FC game was always high up on our list of “things to do in Seattle”.
Me and The Witch tend to go to the US every year but last year we were concentrating on accidentally following Hurricane Sandy up the East Coast rather than going to a soccer game. I’ve always wondered what Major League Soccer (MLS) would be like and our trip to Vancouver, Seattle and Las Vegas with my brother and his wife was the perfect opportunity to experience it.
Most English footy fans know a a bit about the game in the US from the David Beckham/LA Galaxy connection. Most Derby fans who follow Rams legend Alan Hinton on Twitter (and take the time to read the avalanche of tweets he produces) will probably also know a bit about Sounders, possibly the best team in the MLS this season.
Sounders are a big club, make no mistake, the best supported team in the MLS by far, consistently successful in every year since the were resurrected in 2009 and recently emboldened by the marquee signing of USA national team captain Clint Dempsey (previously of Spurs and Fulham, of course). Unlike most MLS teams, Sounders play in a stadium also used by the local NFL team (in this case, the 67,000 capacity CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahwawks). And what a stadium it is. Partially open at both ends with massive curved stands on either side of the pitch, it’s an imposing sight. We managed to get tickets in the Gods for the equivalent of £11.40 each. A bargain and also easy to get hold of, we just ambled over to the ground (25 mins from our hotel at the edge of Downtown Seattle) the day before the game.
Sounders were playing Real Salt Lake, who were in top spot of the Western conference. Win this and Sounders would go top, in prime position, with seven games before the end of the “regular” season, to win the Supporter’s Shield and gain momentum for the MLS play offs (a post season knock out competition that LA Galaxy won last year).
The match day experience
Wow. This was a step up from anything I’ve experienced in 30 years of watching football in England. I presumed (rather naively) that US soccer fans would be less passionate than us about “our” game. No, nothing of the sort. As the four of us approached the ground in our newly purchased Sounders t-shirts we came across a huge group of Sounders supporters (probably about 90% of them in Sounders’ Green) congregating at the historic Pioneer Square. Within minutes, a coordinated “March to the Match” started, with massed flag waving and orchestrated chanting. It was exhilarating stuff, more like a political rally than something you see at a footy match.
There was plenty of activity outside the ground – bars, food, shops but we were keen to get inside, not least to purchase and consume a Giant Cheese and Bacon Dog. The variety of food on offer was a sight to behold. Pizzas, tacos, hot dogs, burgers, pretzels, churros, you name it they had it. You could, of course, drink beer in the stands but nobody was rowdy and the crowd was fully of families with kids. And occasionally a nanny to assist with child control.
I know we have a drummer at Pride Park and the new South stand section has made a big difference to the atmosphere at Pride Park but again the fans inside the ground were a step up from my usual match day experience. There were over 55,000 of them in the ground and only 100 or so Real Salt Lake fans (they don’t seem to do “away” fans here). What teams in the UK can beat that? Celtic, Man Utd, Arsenal but no one else. The inside of the ground was a cacophony of sound – several thousand hard core bouncing/flag waving/chanting fans behind one goal and an official band, Soundwave, behind the other. Oh and there were fireworks and spouting flames after each goal and at full time. The band then serenaded the fans home after the match from the entrance steps of the north part of the stadium.
Brilliant. All of this made me think that while Derby are heading in the right direction, due to the commendable efforts of Derby’s very own flagman, Nick Webster, to encourage a better atmosphere at Pride Park (the move to the South Stand, creation of a Fan Park etc) there is still a long way to go.
Last but not least, the match was fantastic, Sounders dominated from start to finish and won two nil (with goals scored by ex-Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins & fellow striker Lamar Neagle). Sounders are a very capable team, with some top quality home grown players (Neagle up front & Osvaldo Alonso in midfield particularly stood out for me). Clint Dempsey came on for the last half hour and appeared to want to take on the Real Salt Lake defence on his own. The quality overall was pretty high and Real contributed to this, with some technically adept passing and incisive attacking play, mainly inspired by ex-Arsenal midfielder Javier Morales. Unfortunately for them they came up against a resolute Sounders defence and a referee who appeared to think every tackle by Real merited a yellow card. Perhaps the rules are different here..
So, there you go. An amazing first experience of US Soccer that made me want to do it again. We’re due a visit to the East Coast next year, so perhaps we’ll be paying Chicago Fire, New York Red Bulls or New England Revolution a visit. Awesome.