Hammers heading to US soccer's 'cultural capital'

Seattle Sounders blogger Ryan Cowper says West Ham United are visiting a historical hotbed of American soccer...

When you think of Seattle there are a few images that spring to mind: the Space Needle, the Pike Place Market sign, rain. These things are as quintessentially Seattle as any other. They transcend boundaries and generations as permanent fixtures of the region’s cultural identity. In much the same way, the Seattle Sounders are another one of these forces.

Born in 1974, as the Emerald City Supporters loudly sing nearly twice every month; their scarves held aloft in a half-mile march to CenturyLink Field; the Sounders identity has been a Seattle mainstay for over 40 years. As founding members of the NASL, the club was one of the spots that burned brightest in the soccer passion that enveloped the United States in the 1970s. The league’s collapse in 1984 saw the collapse of the team and diminished impact, but not disappearance, for over a decade.

From rain-drenched fields of Marymoor Park to the dry synthetic turf of Memorial Stadium, soccer is ubiquitous across the Seattle area. It is nearly every child’s rite of passage and nearly 30 years of Seattle natives have played soccer. Most at some point have heard Seattle Sounders in conversation, either as legend or as fact.

In the early 1990s the Sounders were resurrected and spent the better part of nearly two decades in the lower divisions of professional soccer in the United States. When MLS granted an expansion franchise to the city of Seattle in 2007, the return of top-flight soccer to Seattle was met with roars of approval and nearly 30,000 season ticket purchases in just months. All that was left was to vote on what a new era of the already best-supported team in MLS would be called.
From rain-drenched fields of Marymoor Park to the dry synthetic turf of Memorial Stadium, soccer is ubiquitous across the Seattle area
What the owners did not count on was the 30-plus years of history and mythos that were about to heaped upon them as fans voted overwhelmingly for write-in options that almost universally featured the name Sounders. In March 2009, in front of 32,523, the Seattle Sounders resurrected themselves as a dominant cultural force on the Seattle landscape.

It was the culmination of nearly 40 years of history. It was the culmination of generations of fans who had been starved for soccer that mattered in Seattle. It was the coming out party for the legions of die-hards who had spent the better part of two decades showing their love and support for a lower division club, building a culture both wholly unique to Seattle yet informed by the global melting pot of world football.

Through seven years and five major trophies their influence has only grown since with average attendance now topping 44,000 per game – a figure that would see them the fifth-best supported club in the Premier League.

Beyond the pitch, the culture of the club remains fan focused. From the fan’s voice – the Alliance Council – to the fan-owned non-profit Sounders Community Trust which owns 20% of the Sounders development team S2, the Sounders organization is partners with the fans. While there are definitely bumps along the way as with any partnership both the fans and the team are committed to the cultural impact that Seattle Sounders’ soccer has.