Before this season began, the focus of the American footballing community was not on the latest addition to MLS, Seattle Sounders FC. Rather fans everywhere were more interested in the David Beckham saga, or if Landon Donovan would finally stick in Europe.
Then we also had the small matter of World Cup qualifying to tend to, the loss of Neven Subotic, and the European debuts of Maurice Edu, Brad Guzan, and Jozy Altidore.
In short, it was a busy off-season for followers of MLS without having to worry about the new club. They can be forgiven for overlooking Seattle at the beginning of the season.
Everybody is paying attention now.
Three games have been enough to show the rest of the league that Seattle will be a contender in their inaugural season. Through three games the club has scored seven goals and conceded none. Thats three straight shutout victories to start their MLS tenure with a realistic shot at a fourth when Kansas City comes calling this weekend.
Not even the Chicago Fire squad of '98 began their first season in MLS with the same dominance as Seattle has. Remember that Fire squad had an 11-game winning streak in the middle of the season and won the MLS Cup and US Open Cup in their first year of existence.
Nobody predicted this sort of success for Seattle before the season started, but perhaps we should have.
Owner Drew Carey is a passionate fan of football, and wants to model the club on the structure of FC Barcelona. Carey has followed the game closely for many years and was impressed by the voice that Barcelona gives its fans. Now if Seattle's fans don't like the direction in which the club is moving, they'll be able to vote for the removal of the General Manager.
This move has fostered the growth of a maniacal fan base. Sounders games at Qwest Field are a hot ticket, tough to come by for some games. The Seattle fan base has surpassed the standard set by the incredible season ticket sales by Toronto FC during their first few seasons.
Large, passionate fan base? Check.
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is also a member of the ownership group, and he brings deep pockets to the club. His connections have already helped secure a lucrative sponsorship deal with Microsoft Xbox and his wealth led to rumours of Seattle attempting to sign Barcelona star Thierry Henry.
Sure, those rumours turned out to be nothing more than fiction but the fact that Seattle could be linked with such a star before even playing a single minute in MLS and have that story be somewhat believable, well that's just amazing.
Instead of Henry, Seattle spent Allen's cash on a few less pricey talents who have so far yielded spectacular results. Kasey Keller, Freddie Ljungberg, and Fredy Montero were all expected to play major roles in Seattle's lineup this season. They have not disappointed.
Substantial funding being spent on smart acquisitions? Check.
The Pacific Northwest was ready for an MLS franchise. That part of the country has embraced football dating back to the days of the North American Soccer League. The success of a franchise in that region will not only benefit that club, but the league as a whole.
Already, we're starting to see the benefits of a healthy Seattle franchise. MLS has granted two more expansion clubs to the region, Portland and Vancouver. Those two clubs are slated to begin play in 2011 and will be excellent natural rivals for the Sounders.
The Sounders, along with the old Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers have a rivalry that dates back to their time in the NASL. All three clubs co-existed for the NASL's heyday and it looks like all three will be revived in MLS.
That could be the best thing to happen to the league since its inception.
We already know what strong rivalries do for MLS attendance. The Superclasico, between Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy, is a very highly attended affair every season. The match also gets national TV exposure because both clubs have such strong fan bases.
But the Superclasico is only contested three times a year. If current MLS scheduling practices hold, Pacific Northwest Rivalry games would happen nine times a year. Even if MLS changes their schedule so teams only play home-and-away, like a European league, that's six rivalry games each season.
Imagine the great exposure for the league if these rivalry games are exploited to their full potential, as is done with the Superclasico. Just two seasons down the road, the most football-crazed part of the country will have the spotlight on it once again.
If the rivalries take hold and bring more excitement to the league, they'll have the successful debut of the 2009 Seattle Sounders FC to thank for it.
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