It wasn’t about the wow factor this time. It’s crazy to think because there were plenty of wow expressions anyway. By Seattle’s robust soccer standards, though, this World Cup qualifier atmosphere was just a normal night.
Over the past five years, as Seattle’s international soccer profile has risen, these big local events have been a purposeful showcase, with everyone determined to prove the city’s passion for the sport. You had to leave inspired and overwhelmed. That was the mandatory impression. It was a rare thing for Seattle, to see the city so formal in this mission, to acknowledge it as the best dressed at its own party. The typical, casual Seattle had received the most thorough makeover ever. It was that important to show the world our soccer affinity through large crowds, exquisite game presentation and an inclusive spirit. Every match, especially the huge ones, had to feel like a celebration of this phenomenon.
So on Tuesday, in perhaps the most important soccer event Seattle has hosted since its emergence, it was striking that the city impressed without trying to impress. It wasn’t over the top. We didn’t overdress for the occasion because, well, special has become normal.
It wasn’t an “Oh, look at how great Seattle is!” kind of night. Our soccer reputation is established now, and the World Cup qualifier between the United States men’s soccer team and Panama served as evidence. Seattle simply provided an attractive and loud background for a good international competition. And the city played its role quite well.
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“Everyone is so impressed,” said Team USA defender Brad Evans, who also plays for Sounders FC. “It’s really gratifying for guys to be so outspoken, to have them say, ‘You guys have something really special here.’ ”
CenturyLink Field was a good host. It was a good crowd (40,847), the seventh-largest ever for a World Cup qualifier on U.S. soil, full of the energy and impressive in its patriotism. And the U.S. offered a good product, winning 2-0 in an effort that was smooth and workmanlike.
Team USA took care of business. So did Seattle.
It was as simple as that. If there was an impression to make, it was steeped in what didn’t happen.
The U.S. didn’t stumble. Though not ideal, the recently-installed grass at CenturyLink Field didn’t influence the outcome of the game. It didn’t rain.
It was a beautiful, subtle night that ended with “U-S-A!” chants echoing throughout the stadium. Instead of wow, the reaction was just as useful.
“Yeah, we would do that again, sure,” U.S. soccer president Sunil Gulati said.
He had nothing but praise for the host afterward.
“All positive,” he added. “A couple of things that people were talking about before this game were field conditions and that we didn’t have a sellout a month ago. That (the crowd) was 41,000 out of 42 that we made available, we had the most comprehensive win that we’ve had in qualifying in this (hexagonal, the six-team final round), so it’s all very positive.
“The crowd was great, the field held up, and we knew, whenever you do something with the field, laying it down on artificial turf, it’s not going to play perfectly, like it’s a natural grass surface. We knew that. The players knew that, we knew that, the coaches knew that. Knowing all of that, because we’ve played on it before, we made the decision to come. It held up well.”
There shouldn’t be another 37-year wait for Seattle to host a World Cup qualifier. You can find better playing surfaces elsewhere in the country, but it’s difficult to match the atmosphere. And it’s impossible to find another U.S. region of fans that will take the event as seriously as it should be taken.
This qualifier drew 30,000 more fans than the Mariners game next door at Safeco Field. Sure, the Mariners score as infrequently as a soccer team, but geez. The attendance discrepancy wouldn’t happen in any other Major League Baseball city, and while it’s easy to turn that into an indictment of the Mariners, it’s also an indicator of soccer’s importance in the Pacific Northwest.
On this night, the good impression wasn’t made via a record-breaking crowd or great marketing. It was made because it was an average night for Seattle, and it still felt extraordinary.
It’s not a surprise anymore when Seattle does a good job hosting. We don’t have to do too much. The game is our love, not the spectacle. The spectacle occurs because the game is so loved.
Really now, more.
More World Cup qualifiers. More elite international events. More soccer for the city’s immense appetite.
By now, it should be apparent Seattle can handle it.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JerryBrewer