For a championship-starved sports community, there's incredible news to report: Seattle will crown a champion Sunday. The city will shine Sunday, even if it rains. It will prove its soccer might — and remind us of the force Seattle can be in the sports world.
For a championship-starved sports community, there’s incredible news to report: Seattle will crown a champion Sunday.
It just won’t be one of our teams.
Well, guess we can adjust the ol’ cliché. If you can’t win ‘em, host ‘em.
Really, though, the MLS Cup is about more than redirecting glory. It brands the city as the epicenter of American soccer for the week and, considering the monumental launch of Sounders FC, perhaps the foreseeable future. Furthermore, with a sellout of more than 40,000 expected at Qwest Field, it could help re-establish Seattle as an appealing location for major sporting events.
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It has been 14 years since this city served as the neutral site for such a spectacle. The last time was 1995, when the Kingdome housed the Final Four. Since then, the only other event of note was the 2001 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which was played in the then-spanking new Safeco Field.
Seattle enjoyed a fine stretch from 1995 through 2005 with all its pro teams alternating successful runs. But the only championships decided by series played here and in the opponent’s city were the 1996 NBA Finals (which the Sonics lost) and the 2004 WNBA Finals (which the Storm won). It’s also worth noting that, in 2005, the Seahawks took the NFC Championship Game at Qwest Field and earned a Super Bowl berth.
For a city that has a solid history of hosting big sporting events — five men’s Final Fours, a pair of NBA and MLB all-star games each, a Stanley Cup, a Goodwill Games, college-football bowl games, even an NFL Pro Bowl — the MLS Cup is a good chance to shine and restore its reputation.
“We want more,” said Ralph Morton, the executive director of the Seattle Sports Commission. “I think this city has all the resources and fan support to put itself out front nationally and internationally, as far as major sporting events are concerned. With soccer, it’s been easy to see that with the success of Sounders FC in their first season. It’s almost like they created a new industry. We’ve become a perfect place for an international sport.”
This area has some momentum. In 2015, Tacoma will host the U.S. Open golf championship at Chambers Bay. Seattle also is part of the conversation for a bid to have the renowned futbol tournament, the World Cup, played in the United States in either 2018 or 2022.
There are enough big dreamers and astute businessmen around here to help the city increase its profile as a sports host. At the same time, however, Seattle is mired in confusion and either insufficient planning or venues to attract some gettable events.
The prime example is the men’s NCAA basketball tournament. While Northwest cities such as Portland and Spokane are regularly selected as host sites for the first and second rounds of the Big Dance, Seattle is being shunned.
The city last hosted NCAA men’s games in 2004, which is a long time to be out of the rotation considering Seattle’s strong history with the tournament. By comparison, Spokane Arena was a host site in 2007 and will be one again in March.
“We’re waiting to talk about it with the NCAA,” Morton said. “I’m waiting to get the strong answer of why we’re not hosting. We need to understand if there’s something lacking or something to be done.”
KeyArena’s much-discussed shortcomings present a problem. But compared to other venues that serve as regular hosts, KeyArena is OK. It’s not the best, but it’s not the worst. It leads you to assume there’s some significant miscommunication between the city and the NCAA.
From the University of Washington’s perspective, this is not a good thing. The Huskies are among college basketball’s elite, and the tournament is set up so that the top-four seeds in each region usually get to play closer to home. If KeyArena were regular hosts again, the Huskies could have the shortest travel time ever. For now, though, it’s just a daydream.
The NCAA only plays its Final Four in domes now, so that’s no longer an option. The regional semifinals and finals tend to be played in bigger and more modern buildings, so that’s out, too. But hosting the first and second rounds is feasible if Seattle figures out how to be a proper suitor again.
“We believe that, as is, KeyArena is a great place to host the first and second round,” Morton said. “We think KeyArena is a great place to watch a game. We need to find out where our issues are.”
There are no issues with the MLS and Qwest Field, however. Qwest was built with both football and soccer in mind. It has proved to be a fabulous football venue. After one remarkable season with Sounders FC, you have to wonder if it’s an even better soccer facility.
The city will shine Sunday, even if it rains. It will prove its soccer might — and remind us of the force Seattle can be in the sports world.
“I knew we were sitting on something very special when I walked on the field for the franchise’s opening match and saw 30,000 soccer fans waving scarves,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said. “I got a lump in my throat as I watched it.”
It could be the last MLS Cup played at a neutral site. Garber said the league will review its championship procedures and likely come to a decision on whether the title should always be decided on a neutral site before next season starts. One thing is obvious, however. If the MLS continues this format, Qwest Field will be a frequent host.
“We’re proving that soccer can work in America,” Sounders FC and Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke said. “And we’re proving that this is sustainable. It’s really cool to witness. I think Seattle is absolutely the epicenter of soccer in American right now.
“This event speaks very well for the city and for our fans. What we don’t have is clear blue skies and 70 degrees on Sunday. But this is a great sports town. When the Sonics left, there are those that said Seattle is just not a very good sports town. That was upsetting to me. I think it was unfair. The Sounders FC has demonstrated this is actually a great sports town.”
With the MLS Cup and 2015 U.S. Open as showcase events, this sports town is gaining in prestige, too.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer