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Main | sfs: two for lauren »

making a sounders fan in 5 easy steps

My friend Penina asked me to make her a Sounders fan, so I'm going to write a general advocacy explainer for why one should join up. Strangely, this is the only Seattle fandom besides Husky football I'd feel really comfortable pitching someone on. I love my Seahawks and Mariners, but they bring me naught but unique psychic pain, generally.


The sport

You should like soccer. [Football, Association Football, footy, whatever. It's soccer here, it's never changing.] Penina, fortunately, already does. If you don't, be a friggin' global citizen, check out a few matches, and read How Soccer Explains The World by Franklin Foer. It's unfair, cruel even, much like baseball. Here's a bit from a great Posnanski essay about Lionel Messi that requires the Wayback Machine:

I measure soccer against the sports I have grown up loving, and it seems to me that soccer — a bit like baseball — is defined by failure. Most corner kicks don’t find a teammate’s head. Most crosses into the box are too long or too short or turned away. Most shots are not aimed for the upper right-hand corner. Most runs end up being stuffed a long way from the goal. Most goals are the result of a staggering blunder — either by the defenders or the goalkeeper or the linesman who missed offside or awarded a shaky penalty kick or gave a free kick in a dangerous place. One somewhat cynical soccer commentator told me that what I need to understand is that every single goal, even the most brilliant of them, is the result of an error somewhere along the way. I suppose that there are pitching coaches who would say the same thing about home runs.

Soccer is also 90+ minutes of crescendo and decrescendo - and, after goals, fortissimo and whatever volume you wail and bemoan at. 45, injury time, break, 45, injury time. The clock doesn't stop. It's beautifully simple and always moving.

The league

MLS fans are forever comparing the league to others around the globe. Maybe that's American exceptionalism talking - we're used to seeing the very best. MLS isn't the very best, but it's a good product getting better. And - and! - it is the easiest league on the planet to follow online. Turnaround time for in-game highlights usually takes between 5 and 15 minutes on Match highlights are thorough. Non-MLS competition in the US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions league is usually streamable. The Sounders are particularly good at this.

David Beckham and Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan play in this league. If you know their names, you deserve to know the folks who generally don't let them dominate. It's a competitive league with a distinct home field advantage. Referees stink, but they stink at the World Cup, too. Announcers are getting better. Blog culture helps all of this along.

derby day tifo

The philosophy

This ties neatly into the appeal of the league. Seattle Sounders FC are the most successful expansion team in the history of sports. [David Stern said that. I am agreeing with David Stern just this once.] Their first year in the league, 2009, heralded MLS 3.0 [2.0 was the league not going under] - four franchises have joined the league since, all of them filling stadia, two of them, Vancouver and Portland importing a derby with Seattle, dragging decades of necessary grudge and spite into the league.

An aside: you want a rivalry, you've got it. Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland supporters have all that blood feud stuff on lock, even though those are two lovely cities, historically Seattle has owned Portland, and for my money, there's bigger villains in MLS. Not a selling point for me, maybe for you.

One of those villains is Real Salt Lake, a well-run franchise that's retained its core for five years, won an MLS Cup, and thumped the Sounders in the first leg of last year's playoffs, then held on in the second leg, which you can watch all of here. RSL is MLS's model franchise - they're full of dudes I can't stand, but they put the ball on the floor, move well, score goals, fill their stadium, and don't pay through the nose for their Designated Players [salary cap-exempt players. Follow MLS for a while and you realize that it's hard to figure out exactly what those dudes get paid, but they're getting production for whatever they're paying.]

The Sounders are following the same formula. They've kept a lot of parts from the expansion year, the biggest loss being Washington native and brick wall Kasey Keller to the broadcast booth. Walrus-like coach Sigi Schmid plays a deep roster that doesn't bunker, makes overlapping runs, and shoots. A lot. Not always on goal, but they create chances. This year, they've sported the best defense in the league. Sigi's the winningest coach in the history of the league and I can't imagine he'll be giving up the job to anyone but a handpicked heir. Creative football will be in the Emerald City for decades.

The club leadership wants to win all the trophies. Since joining MLS, they've won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup three times in a row. No one's ever won it four times. Winning it is one way you qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League, which hasn't had an American winner since Schmid's LA Galaxy in 2000. The Sounders got thumped in a home-and-home with Herculez Gomez' Santos Laguna in this year's competition, but they'll be back in it next year.

The team's owned by Joe Roth, minority owned by Drew Carey, and they've instituted a Very European system where season ticket holders can retain or vote out the general manager. There's a constitution. GM Adrian Hanauer's not going anywhere, because he's put together...

The squad

Pitching a new fan based on the current composition of the squad is a little silly, but I'll sketch some guys who will be around, and one who won't.

Alex Caskey just scored his first goal for the Sounders. He was cut by the team in 2011, went to the USL's Charleston Battery, improved, made the team out of camp, and now he's a rotation guy in league play. He's also a wispy Atlanta kid playing in a creative midfield role. The Sounders staff doesn't typecast. David Estrada, who scored a hat trick in the first MLS match of the year, ended last year as a defender.

Osvaldo Alonso is bossy. Nicknamed the Honey Badger after that one YouTube video a few months before some safety from LSU took that nickname to higher profile, he's aptly nicknamed. He chases you down, takes the ball, and distributes. He's a Cuban defector, also a Battery alum, and he made me hoarse for a day in winning that third straight Open Cup:

Fredy Montero is a freakishly talented trequartista - withdrawn forward - who's been the one true constant in SSFC's MLS tenure, the MLS club's career goal-scoring leader, and derided by stupid people for being lazy when he's just really, really patient. He does stuff like this:

The fanbase

Caveats: Some Sounders fans allegedly choked a Timbers fan once. The rest of the league often sees Seattle fans as trend-humping Johnny-come-latelys, a gripe not without merit - the Sounders packed in near 60K for a match against Pele's Cosmos once, but the transition between USL and MLS made a bunch of new fans. But hey, you're going to be a new fan yourself. Don't let that bother you.

The Sounders have the best fan support in the league - best attendance, tons of supporters groups [including an anti-fascist one! you're anti-fascist, right?], best tifo, tremendous away support. They're Seahawks-level knowledgeable about the game, rather than Mariners-level. The gear is less abrasive than the uniforms.

Join us.

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