Since Saturday, over 90,000 people have watched soccer at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. First there was the Cascadia Cup between the Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps. Tuesday night was a World Cup qualifier between the U.S. and Panama. Wrote Sports Illustrated soccer reporter Grant Wahl: “I have never seen a qualifying crowd so forceful and vocal in its support of the American players. It was impossible not to get chills during some of the second-half chants and when the American Outlaws unveiled a giant U.S. Soccer 100th Anniversary tifo before the game. There’s a reason U.S. Soccer chose to stage this game here.” Seattle soccer fans bring that faux-dangerous, sing-songy energy to a stadium that’s typical of European matches but seemed elusive for American cities. A chorus of soccer observers believe Seattle — and the Pacific Northwest in general — is the new epicenter of American soccer. How, exactly, did Seattle become such a welcoming environment for the sport?
Seattle has always supported their soccer more than the norm, dating back to the NASL Sounders days, when attendance at matches roughly doubled the league average. Youth participation in the area is strong, but youth participation is strong across the country. Lots of immigrants have historically played soccer here, but lots of immigrants play soccer everywhere.
One more plausible explanation is the three-way rivalry in this region between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. There’s no other common sport for Portland, Vancouver and Seattle — which have a combined population of about eight million — to compete in. Compare that to the Acela cities of the Northeast, which play in every major sport, at every time of year. Other regions don’t need MLS to crown a champion. In the Pacific Northwest, soccer is the only means of determining supremacy. (There are no ways to determine supremacy besides sports.)
Another theory is a bit more abstract. Maybe Seattle, Portland and Vancouver are so dedicated to their counter-culture archetypes that they will like a sport merely because the rest of the country doesn’t. Maybe it makes perfect sense that soccer would be imported into this city as well, the single sport the rest of the country so readily and often vocally rejects. It fits in with the ethos of the region as neatly as indie coffee shops and scratch cocktail bars.
But these are still fans acting like fans. They don’t all have master’s degrees in poetry, or if they do, they’re not showing it. They passed out “Song Cards” for both matches, featuring lyrics such as “you’ve got health care / we’ve got tanks” (for the match against Vancouver, of course) and “We came to drink / We came to sing / Burn, destroy, wreck and kill.” Chants about violence and nationalism? Soccer really has come a long way in America.