C’s birthday is the Fourth of July. As I work at a coffee shop within walking distance of Gasworks Park, i.e. Ground Zero for fireworks celebrations in Seattle, I haven’t been able to celebrate his special day properly for a couple of years. Nevertheless, in an effort to be the BEST WIFE EVER I purchased C a Match Pack of Sounders tickets as his birthday gift.
Match Packs are an awesome deal – you buy 4 tickets for $15 each (regular tickets start at about $35). The tickets are extra cheap because they open up the third tier seating for games that are anticipated to be very fun and competitive, such as the rivalry game between the Sounders and the Portland Timbers.
When I bought the tickets, I expected to just sort of tag along with C at the games, feigning interest politely while C screamed enthusiastically in an adorable way.
What I ended up doing is screaming, blue and green chalked hair streaming wildly, waving my “Seattle ‘til I Die” emblazoned scarf, because Goddamit, Ref, DID YOU NOT SEE THAT HANDBALL???
In other words, after learning a few simple rules, you too can become a part of the amazing world of major league soccer, even if you don’t see yourself as a sports fan.
Rules are pretty simple – get the ball in the net, without using your hands, aggressively roughing up other players, or kicking the ball out of bounds. It can’t just be a long-distance kicking match between goalies, because it’s against the rules to pass to a player that is past the last defender. You have to kick it past them and run to it or dribble it around them.
There, that’s all you need to know to begin your enjoyment of a game that is central in pretty much every country in the world except this one.
“But,” you ask me skeptically, “why should I care? That’s some crazy fringe sport that only lunatics enjoy. And Good Lord, nothing even happens. Why?”
Let me tell you.
5. Two Words: Handsome. Players.
Okay, so this is mostly for my ladies. But seriously, look at this guy and tell me that you don’t want to watch him run around for 90 minutes or so until he gets sweaty and his (gorgeous) hair flops charmingly over his forehead.
Unlike American football players, soccer players don’t wear helmets or pads, so you get to see eleven sexy, wiry dudes play in charming knee socks unimpeded by fiberglass.
Full disclosure – sometimes soccer players have really amazing hair
and sometimes they have EXTRA STUPID hair.
Watch at your own risk.
The fans at soccer events are amazing. They make enormous banners called tifos that cover the entire endzone section. They are fan sponsored. They are clever. Gaze upon the glory:
Also a cool and charming part of the game is the fan scarves. Cheaper than a jersey, scarves are a fun spirit-laden accessory that also serves as a celebration tool. There’s basically nothing quite as satisfying as celebrating a particularly impressive goal than by whipping your scarf around in the air with 45,000 other fans.
There’s other great stuff too – World Cup qualifying and tournament play evokes the same nationalism and sentimentality as the Olympics, except it’s not a forgone conclusion that the US will qualify so every game is incredibly high stakes. I hugged a stranger at a bar when we qualified for Brazil 2014 and I am not ashamed to admit it.
Soccer is part of an international tradition of crazy, enthusiastic fans, but really, there’s no better place to see that happen than here in our beautiful Emerald City.
3. Low Score ≠ boring
One of the biggest objections I hear to soccer is that it must be BORING to watch a bunch of guys run around and never make anything happen, for a draw or a 1-0 result. Low scoring games are just DULL, right?
Wrong. Soccer has incredibly fast-paced, athletic games. Because each goal is so hard to get, every goal can sway to tide of the game. I’ve seen good teams find their way out of trailing by two points, but it is hard to do. Really hard. Every single goal or even goal scoring opportunity is incredibly important.
Soccer is so fun to watch because there is always something happening. All respect to good ol’ American Football (in fact, Seahawks’ star quarterback Russell Wilson is a soccer fan as well!), but I get kind of tired of watching you set up for plays, running into each other, moving forward a couple yards, and doing the same thing again. Baseball is the absolute master class in dull sports, and yet there is a baseball game playing in every divey sports bar on the planet.
Soccer is the kind of game that makes me nervous to get up to get a beer because I could miss seeing the game-changing header. It’s pure unaltered suspense. The game constantly hangs on the edge of a knife – you never know when the right player will be in the right place to make a break away. In football, once a team gets in the Red Zone, you know it’s time to pay attention. In baseball, it’s bases loaded and two outs.
In soccer, it’s every gaddanm moment.
Just like that.
2. Be an Ambassador of Awesome
Recently, C and I were jonesing for some hot wings, so we drove up to Lynwood to snarf down Buffalo Wild Wings and watch the Bosnia-Herzegovinia vs US game (at 11 in the morning). When we made our first goal in that game, C and I screamed for joy and high-fived each other – while everyone else in the sports bar looked at us like we were nuts. Hooooo Boy, they thought, look at those insane soccer fans. But after it became clear that our boys were out there fighting hard and they might actually win, two tables leaned over to us and asked us about the game. They joined right in with us to celebrate the winning goal and high-fived us on the way out.
That’s one of the coolest parts of being a soccer fan – you get to be an ambassador of the sport, just by loving something you love.
Admittedly, being a soccer fan in Seattle makes you part of one of the biggest soccer fan bases in the world. The Seattle v Portland game sold out Century Link Field. Almost 68,000 fans cheered on the Sounders as they fought in the Cascadia Cup Rivalry. Seattle’s fan presence would make them the fifth highest attended team in the English Premier League, which is pretty darn impressive, since EPL is roughly analogous to the NFL over there.
Of course, the Sounders play in a bigger stadium than most MLS teams – Portland sells out their stadium on the regular at about 25,000 and would probably sell a ton more if they could.
However, in the US, soccer is still relegated to a “fringe sport,” for hipsters to look down their noses at mainstream sports raking in the dolla-dolla bills. I for one, think it’s become more than that, even in just the last few years. For example, MLS attendance is roughly comparable to NHL attendance. In fact, Sounders average attendance (43,180) nearly doubles the average attendance of the highest attended NHL team, the Chicago Blackhawks (21,776).
So why is it so bloody hard to watch soccer on TV? Why on earth should you have to have Fox Soccer channel or ESPN 3 or go to a very specific bar to be able to see two teams with play-off potential duke it out for a first-place placement in front of a crowd of 50,000 plus fans?
Because the television contracts for sporting events were drawn up several years ago, and they definitely place soccer on the fringes of airtime. The good news? Those contracts are being renegotiated next year, so we may see quite a bit more airtime for MLS, especially on the West Coast.
1. The Players love you back
Say what you will about Sounders fans (and believe me, the rest of the league has something to say about us), we just LOVE the sport. The Emerald City Supporters stand the whole game in the south end zone, beat drums and chant, leading the entire stadium in cheers that can be heard even on television.
We have an awesome pep rally called March to the Match in Occidental Park, complete with Pep band and normally a well-known local artist. Sometimes, majority shareholder Drew Carey makes an appearance. Then, a sea of fans march up to the stadium, singing and waving flags the whole time. It’s an amazing spectacle. You can tell, these are fans that love the team.
But the players love us too. At the end of every home game, win lose or draw, the whole team gives a salute to the fans. Half of them walk off the field stripped to the waist because they gave away their jersey to a fan.
I was fortunate enough to meet our keeper Michael Gspurning, in my coffee shop. He was awesome. I thanked him for playing a shut-out. He thanked me for coming out to the match. We took a picture. He could probably tell that I fangirl shook the entire time, but he didn’t say anything. C tweeted him, and he tweeted back.
These are the players we have. They love playing soccer, and they love playing it here in Seattle.
Soccer is so fun. It really really is. Go to a game. The energy is infectious. This is a game that still needs you support.
SEATTLE ‘TIL I DIE!