>Monday Lunch: Breaking into the Mainstream – MLS in the Pacific Northwest

Posted: January 3, 2011 in mls
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By Evan Ream

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For 15 years, Major League Soccer has been fighting the jokes, taunts, and criticism that it simply does not matter when compared to other sports leagues in the United States. As a teenager, I was barraged with similar comments when I wore my DC United jerseys to school. Fans of other sports as well as “Euro Snobs” perceived MLS as a joke and nothing more than an afterthought in today’s professional sports. For a long time, I wondered if these things could actually be true. Was I the only one that cared about MLS? Of course, there were areas like Washington DC and Los Angeles that clearly cared about their teams, and yet when I would visit those places, you wouldn’t see MLS jerseys or hear people talking about MLS. I started to think that MLS could never be relevant in any market like the big four sports were, but then Commissioner Don Garber and MLS made one of their best decisions yet: to add soccer to the Pacific Northwest.

Admittedly, I never visited the Pacific Northwest until this year, so the addition of Seattle sort of went over my head despite the excellent attendance numbers that they had (30,943 in 2009 and 36,173 this year). Seattle has obviously benefitted from having intelligent owners and a competitive team from the beginning, but it is the fans that truly care that make it what it is. How many other groups of fans march to the stadium through the city center before the game? The answer is none. Well, none in America. The things Seattle is doing right now is getting a huge amount of coverage and doing what MLS couldn’t do in for a long time: break into the mainstream.

 

During a recent trip to Portland, I had the pleasure to catch the end of a University of Portland match against the University of Washington. The 4,892-seat stadium was packed; not an empty seat could be seen. Now, this wouldn’t be impressive for a college sports game of any kind, though I think selling nearly 5,000 tickets to a college game proves that soccer is going to make it up here. Why? Well first, consider that just 3,537 students attend Portland, and they are selling out a 5,000-seat stadium. Second, this was a GIRLS game. Nothing against woman’s soccer, but if a single university can get 5,000 people to come see the game while most WPS teams can’t get that, that has to tell you something.

 

For me it is shocking that MLS has ignored the Pacific Northwest area for such a long time, but now with Portland and Vancouver getting teams next year, MLS should have unprecedented coverage, and even better, no one will be cracking jokes about soccer up there. This area will likely become America’s next hotbed for soccer with three teams within five hours of each other. It has yet to be seen what these two new teams will do, but if they do half of what Seattle has done, then MLS will be a legitimate force for the first time, if only in one area of the US (and Canada). Both teams have been in the news by either making big moves (Jay DeMerit to the Whitecaps) or advertising (numerous billboards can now be seen on the Portland skyline as well as a team store in the middle of downtown, just a few blocks from the famed Voodoo Doughnuts). 

 

Though each city currently boasts popular teams in the four major sports in the Portland Trail Blazers, Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Mariners, and the Vancouver Canucks (RIP Seattle Supersonics), soccer has a chance to be listed among these storied franchises in the near future. All three of these cities are much too large to be one-sport cities, and with the amount of passion for the game, MLS will catch on. I firmly believe that we will look back in five or ten years and say that 2011 was the year MLS became mainstream because of the Pacific Northwest and its unlimited potential.

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