Photo by ISIphotos.com
I am an East Coast guy. There is no denying that and I have never made a secret of it. You can call me on my "East Coast Bias" and I probably won't argue that in the past I have preferred trips up and down I-95 to cross-country flights (unless Las Vegas is involved), but a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest has opened my eyes to a part of the country that some East Coast folks like myself just aren't that familiar with.
Places like Seattle, Portland and Vancouver were never more than just places on a map to me before last week, cities tucked away from the rest of the United States. They were cities that might as well have been on the other side of an ocean because there never had been much reason to go there or know much about them. That changed for me last week after spending the better part of four days taking in life and the soccer scene in the top left corner of the country.
In short, it was an experience to remember.
The reality is that the people in cities like Seattle, Vancouver and Portland genuinely love their soccer, and they are ready to embrace Major League Soccer with open arms. This isn't about rich guys stroking their egos by paying for teams in their hometowns. The recent MLS movement toward the Pacific Northwest is about a league going where the fans are and where the passion for the sport is.
I must confess to having been among the many who had visions of Miami or a second New York team in the recent rounds of expansion, but walking around the city of Seattle in the days leading up to last week's unforgettable debut match for the MLS Sounders you realize just how much the people of Seattle had embraced a team that hadn't even taken the field yet.
The same could be said for the people in Vancouver and Portland, where grateful fans let their emotions show after seeing their cities awarded MLS franchises. Talking to Houston Dynamo goalkeeper and Vancouver native Pat Onstad and hearing him talk about his hometown's love for the sport and his memories of being a fan of the NASL Whitecaps you could hear the emotion and the unflinching confidence he has in Vancouver being a success for MLS.
Ultimately that is what matters most to the survival and success of MLS. Finding markets where soccer fans already exist, where they are hungry for teams and where they will turn an MLS team into a way of life. The people of the Pacific Northwest are ready to do that and the league will be that much stronger for it.
Does this mean there aren't soccer fans in St. Louis or Atlanta or Miami? Of course not. There are soccer fans all over the country who would do anything to have an MLS team, but what some people on the opposite side of the country may not have realized until last week is that the Pacific Northwest is a soccer hotbed and its passion for the sport is going to give MLS the type of boost it couldn't have found in any other corner of the continent.
It might not be convenient for people on the East Coast to fly out to Seattle or Vancouver, and having that many more late-night games might prove inconvenient, but eventually MLS fans from all over the country will come to realize the value and importance of MLS planting its flag in the Pacific Northwest with three teams.
Hopefully those same people will realize, like I did during an unforgettable week in Seattle, that it isn't about being East Coast people, or West Coast people, but about being soccer people wanting the sport to thrive in this country. The people of the Pacific Northwest are ready to help make that happen.