That may seem a fairly arrogant headline, considering MLS has been around for 14 years and Sounders FC has been around for two games.
And no, I don’t have any illusions that the Sounders will keep picking up three points every time they take the pitch. After two games it seems like the Sounders on the field are competitive in a way few MLS expansion teams have been, but they’re not going to run the table. Lumps will come.
Where MLS needs to step up to the Sounders standards is off the field. Mostly meaning in the stands. Look at these pictures taken last night by News Tribune photographer Janet Jensen. That wasn’t just a sellout crowd, that was a sellout crowd having fun. The night was colder than ideal, so that crowd provided its own heat. It was something to see, something to hear, something to be part of. It was something the NBA, NHL and even a number of MLB teams would be envious of. Enough to make you think that maybe professional soccer is going to make it in the United States this time.
But then I pull out my Sunday morning TNT and scan the box scores from around MLS: 14,686 fans in a 22,500-seat stadium for defending champion Columbus, 12,462 in a 25,576-seat stadium in New York/Jersey; 11,885 in a beautiful new 18,086-seat stadium in Colorado; and 9,177 in San Jose’s 10,500-seat temporary home.
(Update: Now an honestly pathetic 6,500 at Dallas has been added.)
No wonder commissioner Don Garber said he was moved to tears by the opening-night crowd in Seattle. No wonder the league is trying to recreate its success by planting new teams in Vancouver and Portland.
However, MLS’ ambitions are as a real national league, not a Northwest novelty. And there’s no other league for Sounders to be promoted into. This is it. The Sounders’ long-term success is tied to the long-term success or failure of MLS. And staring at those attendance figures was a sobering end to last night’s Sounders celebration.