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MMCB: Discovering the Pacific Northwest and why it’s perfect for MLS

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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.


  1. For the most part i believe the expansion was a smart idea for the MLS if the league wants to gain interest. Altough i truly think that if the MLS wants to expand going to Canada and St. Louis is the smartest idea for the next round of expansion in 2012. St Louis Soccer United and the Montreal Impact…maybe?

  2. I just want to clear up that there’s a difference between the size of a city and it’s market for soccer.

    1,000,000 people who don’t care about soccer is a smaller market than 500,000 who do.

  3. Well Adam,

    Per Neilson ratings, Seattle is the 13th largest market and Portland is the 23rd. Vancouver BC is in Canada but it is of a similar size to Seattle. So they are not smaller markets. I guess you could argue that Portland is but not Seattle and Vancouver.

    To segue briefly into basketball, this struck me as idiotic by the new Sonic ownership group. They moved the Sonics from the 13th largest market to the 48th…and they want to have a profitable business?

  4. Chase,

    Its obvious that Hunt was the reason for KC having a team. That didn’t make it a wise choice.

    Also game attendance doesn’t make a successful franchise, especially when most attendance records aren’t accurate.

  5. oh how I love the phrase Cascadia, because that is also the Cup competition between the three teams. NY your renaming has put you out of the Heritage Cup, for NASL namesake teams.

    NORTHZAX-I could not have put it better, Portland-The red headed stepchild, Vancouver-The Hot Attractive one with a bright future, and Seattle-The first son, with it’s problems but it leads the way.

    p.s. when does the Adidas contract end? Nike might want to get involved now, maybe there would be a bidding war…

  6. Harry would certainly be proud of you Ives:

    Seattle Sounders

    Redknapp began his management with a spell as player-assistant manager of North American Soccer League side Seattle Sounders from 1976–79.

  7. Brian,

    KC is not a headscratcher when you keep in mind that Lamar Hunt was a major benefactor of the league and had Arrowhead Stadium as a ready made, rent free home for a franchise.

    The Wiz were also the lone Midwestern representative of the original 10 franchises (some might claim Columbus as part of the Midwest, I, as an Iowan I don’t).

    And despite not winning a Super Bowl since the 1960s, the KC Chiefs are one of the best supported teams in the NFL (regularly selling out an 80,000 seat stadium) and were a competitive team for much of the 1990s and early/mid 2000s. The Royals were not a team with a long record of poor performances when the MLS was established in 1996 and had won a World Series in 1985.

    And this comes from someone who despise Kansas City sports (as a big Chicago White Sox and Oakland Raiders fan) and is not a KC Wizards supporter. The franchise has actually been revived by the sale of the club by the Hunt Group, its move from the cavernous confines of Arrowhead to the more intimate Community America Ballpark, and the construction of its future SSS.

    I am no apologist of the Wizards, but there were specific reasons why a team was placed in KC and the club has a brighter future than doom and gloomers in here care to believe.

  8. If you want to talk about wasting space on small markets then lets discuss Salt Lake, Columbus and Kansas City, three markets that are smaller than Portland.

    Kansas City is the biggest head scratcher because the city already had football and baseball teams with long records of poor performance.

    Columbus and Salt Lake are in the same position as Portland with one major professional team that plays during the winter.

    We all should just resign ourselves to the fact that MLS will never be on level with the top European leagues. I just want it to be big enough that I can watch road games on TV.

  9. Cascadia is really like a whole different country. I’m from Portland, although I have lived in DC for a decade. Portland, Seattle and Vancouver have all the expressed distaste of a sibling rivalry gone bad. Vancouver has the best physical location (seriously, Elliot Bay is gorgeous, but Burrard Inlet is even better, Portland has the Columbia and Willamette, not even close) Seattle has the economic boom and cachet fed by two decades of technology and the grunge boom. Both Vancouver and Seattle have fine big state research Universities (UW, UBC) but Portland managed to hold on to the NBA. Vancouver had a massive influx of Hong Kong money in the late 80s and early 90s to go from a sleepy outpost to a modern city with international pretensions (Reagan and Bush I wouldn’t allow more immigration from Hong Kong after it was announced, something like 5 thousand multi-millionaires moved to Vancouver instead of San Francisco or Seattle in two to three years, including three of the ten richest men in the world at that time. injected something like $50 billion US into the BC economy) Portland is definitely the little sibling of both, it started smaller and the boom was smaller. but it has learned from watching the experience of Seattle (which is why things like public transport are so excellent in Portland)

    so to recap, Seattle is the big bother who is successful as all get out, but who’s personal life is hell. Vancouver is the pretty sister for whom everything seems to come easily, and Portland is the little brother for whom no amount of success or happiness will suffice, as long as the other two look happier and more successful.

    by the way, two tests you really should be able to pass in case you are traveling to Portland or Seattle anytime soon:

    1: which of the following places can be considered ‘back east’?

    a: New York
    b: Boston
    c: Chicago
    d: Cheyenne

    2: pronounce the word “Willamette”

  10. Tony Chursky would agree with those comments.

    Where o Where have the NASL days gone. Onceuponatime Giorgio Chignalia and the Cosmos played the 1st Seattle Sounders in a soccer bowl.

  11. I was LOL when you went Obama in the last line. You’re a cheese ball Ives.

    I still can’t believe they’re going let the Patchouli stinking timbers into the league.

  12. “Makes you wonder how the MLS folks could have screwed up the locations so much when they started out in 1996.”

    Because when it came to soccer, Lamar Hunt had a lot more money than expertise. He is directly responsible for the location of three of the most chronically undersupported MLS teams (KC, Dallas, Columbus).

  13. St. Louis doesn’t have the NASL history of the PNW cities, but I was a teenager before I knew that indoor soccer wasn’t the third major sport everywhere else. The star Steamers players were as well known as any of the football or baseball Cardinals, and better known than most of the Blues. Even as recently as the late ’90s, the Ambush were drawing 14-15K per game. We still get MLS, SLU, and local high school soccer highlights on the local TV news. If MLS is really looking for more cities where soccer doesn’t take a back seat to other sports, St. Louis is a must.

  14. St. Louis has always been a soccer hotbed. I remember growing up around there in the ’80’s when the local indoor soccer team would get has much TV sports news coverage the NHL team or college basketball, and more than the NBA (St. Louis hasn’t had an NBA team in a long time).

    Makes you wonder how the MLS folks could have screwed up the locations so much when they started out in 1996. It seems that a 10 team league of NY, DC, Chicago, St. Louis, LA, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal (maybe Salt Lake City and Houston later) would have been better attended.

  15. I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest or the west coast for that matter but I definately agree with Ives and for all of the stories I’ve read since before Seattle was awarded an expansion that this region is an excellent soccer hub. It really is so surprising to see all the pictures of scarves and the signage on the streets of Seattle promoting the team not to mention the excellent sales of season tickets and tickets for soccer events in general there. I live on the east coast but I am very excited that all 3 NW cities are now included in MLS. In my mind, once Montreal, St. Louis, and NYC 2 join the fold this will really be a top flight league in NOrth America. I’m not ruling Miami out or anything but I think it still needs to prove itself as a viable soccer market, even though the demographics are changing fast there.

  16. Sorry, didn’t proofread that… both Nashville and Charlotte are smaller than Atlanta, but they’ve proven they can support professional sports.

  17. Let me give y’all an explanation as to why soccer isn’t going to work in the southeast, at least not in Atlanta. If you look at Atlanta, they have all 4 major sports. The only team they support reasonably well is the Falcons. Attendance at Hawks games is a joke. The Thrashers (NHL) are even more of a joke. Nobody goes to the games. They coudn’t even sell out playoff games for the Braves back when they were really good in the 90’s. Atlanta just isn’t a good sports town. It never has been. If the MLS team wants a team in the south, they ought to look at Charlotte or Nashville. Both cities are smaller than Nashville, but have shown they support sports. I’m all for growing the sport down here, but if the MLS ever puts a team in Atlanta, it will be a disaster and set things back even further.

  18. “I’ve been supporting the Metros since ’97 and I will keep supporting the team but I will never accept the Red Bull identity.

    Call me what you want but if Wilpon brings back Cosmos to NYC/Queens I think I’ll have a hard time not rooting for them as opposed to the New Jersey Red Bulls.”

    Posted by: Zoti | March 23, 2009 at 02:58 PM

    The Metro’s never won anything. The franchise was horrible. RedBull got us a new stadium so, I’m riding with them. People have this romantic idea about the Metro’s that simply isn’t true. The Cosmos played in Jersey too… People need to get over themselves. Support the team or don’t. Just stop crying about it…

  19. Feh. There are three breweries in that town worth a damn, and the rest I can leave behind (NOC, HUB and Laurelwood).

    Please, leave the USL attendance comparisons where they belong, which is nowhere. What competition did the USL have in PDX? Nothing. What did the Sounders have to compete with? Even in a down year (or years, as this very disaffected Mariner fan will atest), the Mariners are an attendance juggernaut. Last year the Sounders also played all of their games in Tukwila. Starfire is a nice complex, but a pain in the ass to get to if you’re not from the Beacon HillTukwilaRentonSea-Tac area.

    I think Portland will do great for a number of reasons:

    1) Love of the sport.

    2) No real competition in the summer.

    3) Love of the sport.

    The only thing that really pisses me off about PDX coming in is that the beer selection at PGE will probably be better than the beer selection at Qwest (which, when held in comparison to that of Safeco, is an absolute embarassment to the city).

  20. Perfectly stated Ives. You hit the nail on the head.

    If you love U.S. and want it to thrive on a prfessional level then the Northwest (and Canada)are the places to be.

    This from a guy living in South Florida surrounded by thousands of soccer lovers who couldn’t give a damm about the U.S. professional or the U.S. National team for that matter.

    Man- did Barcelona FC wise up just in time or what? Imagine the clips on European television of a 1/3 filled FIU Stadium and what that what have done for image of the MLS? Now imagine after 3 years Barca decides to fold the team due to lack of support or dump their shares to whoever would take them?

    Well – that’s pretty much what would of happened.

    By the way- did anyone notice the attedance figures were not outstanding for opening weekend except for Seattle? But then 10,000 may be a sell out in KC’s and San Jose’s current stadiums.

  21. Areas with crappy weather support teams. Not a slam on these areas or a supreme axiom, just what I’ve noticed. Best supported NFL teams are places like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo. In all those northern cities in England. Baseball in NY and Boston. Soccer in the Pacific Northwest. Cold rain loves sports

  22. One thing to keep in mind is not the size of the market but the passion of the fan base. I know, I am a member of the Timbers Army, yeah, one of those “crazy mofos” in Portland.
    Take note: last year with metro populations of slightly over 2 million Portland and Vancouver held the second and fourth places, for attendance, respectively, while Seattle with another million people held the eighth position even as they prepped to switch to MLS. I’m not dissing Seattle (at least not this time) but rather to point out there is not a direct correlation between city size and suitability for a team (I’m sure you’ve all heard it’s not the size, it’s what you do with it). If you ever want to see how to get a football team going, come to Portland.

    By the Portland’s also well known producing and consuming the nation’s best ales.

  23. Adam M.,

    Seattle and Vancouver won’t have any financial issues. Portland might because it only has a couple large employers and high unemployment, but it is a growing city nonetheless. And it helps to have a loaded owner in Henry Paulson.

  24. Having your teams in huge metropolitan areas isn’t as important if MLS stays single-entity. Small markets like KC and Portland will be able to compete with the LA’s and NY’s as long as they are on equal economic footing. Even if MLS moves away from single-entity, but keeps a lot of revenue sharing and the salary cap, talent and success should be spread throughout the league.

    I’m convinced that fixing what ails existing MLS markets is as important as successful expansions. Unfortunately, that responsibility falls to the individual owners who have run flawed operations as much as it does the league. It seems like the new owners coming into the league are a lot more savvy than groups like the Krafts.

  25. Tim,

    First, Chelsea, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Roma, AC Milan, Inter, (and I’d add) Bayern Munich and Lyon make up 9 of the top 12 teams in Europe usually, out of hundreds of first division sides, and all hail from some of the largest metropolitan regions in Europe. More to the point, including Manchester, Liverpool, and Juventus, vitrually every consistently winning team in Europe hails from the largest cities within the country they play in. Liverpool is a big exception (though its not a small market in England), and they have decades of rich history behind them.

    Portland is the 23rd largest metropolitan area in the U.S. and Vancouver is only slightly larger (Seattle is 15, and a great addition). I’m not suggesting that they should not have teams ever. I am only suggesting that MLS has a limited number of spots for now and those spots, if given out at all (and I don’t they should have been now) are better filled by larger markets that, if run right, can win dollars and players necessary to make this a world class league. I hope they sell out every game and wish them well. I just hope MLS has a long term plan that makes sense if they don’t perform on the pitch.

  26. Also, for Christ’s sake, shorten the playoffs, the early stages don’t attract attention anyways. Divide the conferences into two divisions and have the champions of each play for the right to enter the final.

  27. Amen Ives. I totally support the idea of putting teams where fans will support them, regardless of the region or whatever else. Plus, it makes it MUCH more enjoyable to watch on tv. I don’t support the idea that we need to put a team in the Southeast just for geographic balance, when there’s not one city that can guarantee good fan support.

    I also have an unrelated question… We keep talking about the Pacific Northwest. But if you’re a Canadian, isn’t Vancouver the Pacific Southwest? Just curious.

  28. hello dude, east coast is a cramped trash hole with obnoxious people compared to the rest of what the U.S. has to offer. Come out of the concrete jungle and into freedom and serenity.

  29. re: Adam M., on multiple leagues:

    What I’ve thought in the past what MLS should do is, rather than divide the table into western and eastern regions, to divide the table into north and south regions. The “Northern” conference wouldn’t necessarily be composed of teams in the geographic north, but in the cities with the coldest winters in the MLS. For example, were it to be implemented starting next year, the Northern conference would consist of: Col, RSL, NY, Phi, Chi,Tor, NE, CLB; the Southern conference would consist of: LA, Chv, Dal, Hou, SJ, Sea, KC, DC.

    The utility of this is that you can then stagger the schedules so that southern teams don’t have to play in the middle of June in the sweltering heat and the northern teams don’t have to play in the freezing cold. For example, the Southern conference could begin play in January, break after May for a summer break, reconvene in August and continue finish off their schedule in time for the playoffs in October. Conversely, the Northern conference could begin play in late March and continue playing all the way through October. In order to compensate for the long stretch of rest the Southern Conference has in the middle of the season, they could stagger transfer windows as well, allowing the Southern conference only the use of the June-August window, and the Northern conference only the use of the January-April window (Perhaps November-December can be designated as a period in which players can move to non-conference MLS clubs).

    I think the best thing about this plan is that the league is then able to operate year round, technically without any offseason at all save for the two months between the MLS cup and the following January. The league could maintain a year-round presence in the sports market that suddenly doubles in size between August and October when both conferences are playing games, thus providing a nice build-up to the MLS Cup.

  30. As a former Seattleite living back on the east coast in NYC, here is my take:

    Seattle has a great soccer community with hundreds of teams in multiple adult leagues. They have international aspirations that other ‘old-guard’ cities don’t feel they need to posess. To sum it up, they are an unconventional town with a lot of hyper-educated people looking for outlets to be cultured by.

  31. “You will experience a true soccer experience and not the manufactured corporate crap you witnessed in Seattle”

    -The Dumb Port fans

    I wasn’t able to go so I have no idea about the band, but it seems like an original idea in th league. I am glad for he real and smart fans in Portland who desire to watch a team win and not for the dummies that try to act like the old English Hooligans. Of course they haven’t had a team that can manage to find a way to win an open cup match.

    It is amazing how many people I have had come up to me since last Thursday night asking about going to a game.

  32. Adam M:

    The top teams in Europe come from its largest cities? Uh no. Manchester, and Liverpool are not that big, Birmingham (home to Aston Villa is larger than both). Turin is small yet is home to Juventus.

    In fact, of the top 20 largest Euro cities, only 5, London, Milan, Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome have teams that could be called the “best”. So thats what? Chelsea, Arsenal, Inter, Milan, Barca, RM and Roma out of like 30 or so teams in those 20 metro areas?

  33. JesseMT- for your question on east coast expansion, the two cities that would be great to have a team are New York and Boston. I’m from directly in the middle of both and dislike going to both jersey and foxboro for games. If either the RB’s or Revs played in their cities soccer in the NE would me much, much bigger.

    After that (next year w/philly) from DC on up is pretty well covered as long as Rochester can keep their team.

    As for the southeast, the best thing is continued support for miami, railhawks & battery. Maybe some day with good numbers MLS will look their way and not just at the dollar signs.

  34. It’s common logic that once Seattle was granted a team that Portland and Vancouver would be shortly awarded teams as well.

    It makes a lot of logistical and financial sense to have these three teams in the same league.

  35. Yeah Haig, because the MetroStars did it right the 10 yrs they were in existence. I don’t know what they’re putting in the water down there in TN, but let me remind you that the only tradition in the NYC is mostly the Eurosnobs and the S.A. snobs supporting every known European and S.A. team and not their local team. That has been going on forever. Oh, and that NY media you talk about, well they’re not really into reporting about soccer. It’s all bullcrap Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Rangers, Islanders with bit of Nets and Devils thrown in there for good measure. The only ‘real media’ reporting soccer are on blogs like this. That’s just the way it goes. But, you know, there are the few of us who have been supporting our local soccer team no matter what, and that includes rebranding. That’s what will become tradition. Imagine, supporters supporting no matter what. The only ‘joke’ here are people like you who are ‘heartbroken’. Get some dude, please.

  36. The Sounders really seem like they have a good game plan. They’re not as bad as Toronto was their first couple of years. How did they get that Columbian kid to come? Shouldn’t he be in Europe?

  37. Ives-

    Glad you had a good trip and got to see what Seattle fans are all about. I am glad you made the trip as tv did not do the energy in the city justice.

    For all the observers out there, Thursday night was just the beginning (albeit a great one). The team will get much better over the next couple of years and the atmosphere will get much better as we become more organized. I would invite anyone who can to tune in to a late season match to see an even better atmosphere.

    Finally, bring on porty and the couv. This is going to be incredible.

  38. Eugene, that’s an insane comment. New York and Boston ARE hotbeds for soccer. The management and fan treatment from the Revs and MetroBulls have conspired to keep fans away from the clubs.

    At the end of the day, it’s all about the game experience that keep people coming back.

    In Foxboro (not Boston), the skinflinty Krafts only open one side of the stadium… making the crowd stare across the field at 35k empty seats and tarps. How’s that for an atmosphere

    In the Meadowlands, 13+ years of mostly losing in a market with 9 other pro teams and a crappy turf field have soured the fan base. Some can’t deal with cheering for an energy drink.

    Seattle and the other new teams can safely avoid these miscues, generating fan passion with wise marketing investments. They don’t have to make the mistakes that have sullied the MLS water in NY, NE, CMB, FCD, and COL.

  39. Seven, what the hell are you talking about? Preaching to the choir? Most of the SBI Mafia is from the East Coast and every SBI poll I ever saw about expansion had Portland and Vancouver losing out to the likes of St. Louis and Montreal. I’m one of these people who never gave the Pacific Northwest much thought. Now I cant wait to go there to watch games there.


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