So I came to the local bar this past Thursday night with some of my fellow Orlando soccer fans to watch MLS First Kick, and the introduction of Seattle Sounders FC to Major League Soccer.
What we were treated to the kind of spectacle you would expect out of European football.
The Seattle crowd was loud and spirited, and stood the entire game, waving their scarves and cheering their home team.
A group of players made their names that night. Colombian import Fredy Montero. Local boy and England lifer Kasey Keller. Young upstart Brad Evans, who came from Columbus in the expansion draft, ultimately followed by manager Sigi Schmid.
If it weren't for the colors and the fact that the game was in HD, you'd have thought this was a match from England, Spain, or Italy with that kind of atmosphere.
This is the kind of soccer environment that MLS has been hoping for.
It is just one game, but with 22,000 season tickets sold, Sounders games are already destined to have what would've been the second-highest attendance last year. Rest assured more of the same will follow, with a great atmosphere throughout the season.
Can the fans of Seattle be the mythical 12th man? It's certainly not new to Seattle; Seahawks fans are recognized as a "12th man." And 12th men aren't new to football, either. But could Seattle pull something off with their combination of on-field talent, sideline leadership, and fan support?
Could they win the MLS Cup in their first year, like Houston (2006) or Chicago (1998)?
Could they snag the Supporters' Shield in their first year, something no team has done before? (Since it was the first MLS year, Tampa Bay doesn't count, bless their souls.)
Perhaps more importantly, can other teams replicate the feel created by the Emerald City?
Any team with a soccer-specific stadium can do it. There's no reason that we couldn't see the same from Chicago, Dallas, either L.A. team, or Columbus. Toronto may have the makings of that environment, but not with the same fanfare. Philly and Portland will come with their own stadiums, and Kansas City, San Jose, and Houston are very close to getting theirs.
Some wonder if soccer is growing in popularity. Of course some claim it has already failed since ol' what's-his-name decided to skip town. But if more people feel the way that I do, that Seattle has created the most authentic soccer experience to date, then indeed soccer's time in the United States may be at hand.
We don't need any particular player. We need an atmosphere of excitement at every game. We need people to cheer and dance not just in small supporters' sections but through entire stadiums, or at least much more significant portions thereof.
We need to show the rest of the United States why soccer is so big around the world: It's not the number of goals, but the importance of the goal.