In the hot phase of the battle for the play-off places in the Major League Soccer (MLS), the spotlight has been grabbed by the Seattle Sounders. The West Coast squad have reached the top of the Western Conference following an impressive campaign. The first title of North American champions seems to be in Seattle’s grasp. The Sounders team have already won the MLS Cup.
Seattle, the 15th team accepted into the MLS in 2008 but who boast a much longer tradition, drew 1-1 with the New York Red Bulls in the crucial match on September 29. New York maintained the top position in the Eastern Conference with that result. Previously Seattle, coached by Sigi Schmid of German origin, had underlined their improving form with a 1-1 at title holders Los Angeles Galaxy. The 2011 and 2012 champions, currently in fourth position in the Western Conference, six points behind second-placed Seattle, have to worry about reaching the play-off matches. Four rounds before the conclusion of the regular season, the team centred around star Landon Donovan suffered a 1-0 defeat at the Portland Timbers, Seattle’s neighbours from the Pacific coast, on the last weekend in September.
Before the two draws with the top teams from LA and NY the Sounders celebrated five straight victories. They defeated leaders Real Salt Lake 2-0 and Chicago Fire 2-1 after three 1-0 wins against Chivas USA, at Columbus Crew and in the Derby over Portland.
Seattle enjoys a very special position in professional football in the USA and Canada. The club has by far the highest number of spectators. The attendance has reached a level that would beat many in Europe’s big leagues. The average attendance is about 44,000 at Century Link Field, also the home ground of the Seattle Seahawks. A further speciality of the Sounders is that the soccer team shares the stadium with the local American NFL football team.
The stadium’s capacity, with a lockable roof, is variable by opening and closing of the upper stands. Though for most of the Sounders’ encounters an opening of just 38,500 seats has been intended, 67,000 seats have been provided more and more frequently. For American football, with a smaller pitch, the stadium holds 72,000 spectators. The Century Link Field is considered the noisiest stadium in the USA, probably due to the enthusiastic fans rather than the construction.
An average 43,144 spectators attended the Sounders home matches last season, but that number would be much higher if the majority of the encounters hadn’t been limited to 38,500. However, the Sounders far overshadowed all other clubs, even with that limited capacity. Champions Los Angeles hold second place in the spectator table with an average of 23,136 per match. The average for all clubs was 18,807.
Tim Cahill scored the 1-1 equaliser for New York against the Sounders. The Australian international was impressed by the backdrop of 39,083 spectators in Seattle. “It is real fun to play here”, said the offensive player, who knows a good stadium atmosphere from his time in the English Premier League with Millwall and Everton. It is not known how serious Cahill was when he said that playing football in Seattle was a lot of fun. For the match was affected by a heavy rain storm in the second half. However, Cahill achieved his ninth goal of the season for the Red Bulls, whose top star Thierry Henry was missing with an Achilles tendon injury. Brad Evans had put the Sounders with Austrian goalkeeper Michael Gspurning in front from the penalty spot shortly before halftime. Seattle boast the best home record in the MLS with ten wins, three draws and just one defeat.
And all that despite Clint Dempsey, who returned from Tottenham Hotspurs in England seven matches ago, is presently injured. The US international striker is suffering from a ruptured muscle fibre in his thigh. When he made his home debut against Portland at the end of August, Seattle reached a new attendance record of 67,385 fans. Dempsey is the top earner in the MLS. According to official figures he is earning 5,038,566 US dollars. And the Sounders emphasise that they became even more successful in marketing and sponsoring since he has been wearing the club’s green-blue colours.
Eight further MLS players earn more than one million dollars per year. Henry (4,350,000) and Cahill (3,625,000) with New York, Robbie Keane (4,333,333) and Donovan (2,500,000) with Los Angeles Galaxy, former Wolfsburg professional Obafemi Martins (1,725,000) with Seattle, as well as three strikers with Canadian clubs. They are Marco Di Vaio (1,937,508) with Montreal Impact, Danny Koevermans (1,663,323) with Toronto FC, and Kenny Miller (1,124,992) with Vancouver Whitecaps.
The salary of former Leverkusen and Bayern Munich player Donovan reached Dempsey’s level with a recent extension of his contract. The two internationals could meet in the play-off matches. Last year Los Angeles won the Conference final against Seattle with an aggregate of 5-2 from both matches. In 2013, the Sounders’ chances are obviously rosier.