Seattle's underwhelming embrace of USMNT

Posted by Doug McIntyre

SEATTLE -- For the U.S. national team and Seattle, Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier between the U.S. and Panama (10 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN) is about taking advantage of an opportunity.

The objective for Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and the rest of coach Jurgen Klinsmann's squad is to build on Friday's last-gasp win in Jamaica and move ever closer to cementing a berth at Brazil 2014.

For Seattle -- which has become known as Soccer City USA since Sounders FC exploded onto the national sports scene five years ago -- it's the chance to make sure it doesn’t have wait another 36 years to host an A-list U.S. game.

Any way you slice it, that more than 6,000 tickets remained available less than two days before the match has to be viewed as a major disappointment.

Although it's true that few, if any, American cites could sell 35,000 seats -- almost double what the Yanks have averaged through the first four home games of the 2014 cycle -- to mostly U.S. supporters, that number wouldn’t crack the top 10 all-time crowds for the U.S. during qualifying. For a game of this magnitude, one locals had been seeking for years, it's hard to see how any crowd below 40,000 can be considered a success.

After all, the Sounders are drawing more than that for early-regular-season MLS games this year. Plus, with the equally successful (in terms of local relevance, if not sheer numbers) Portland Timbers just a few hundred miles down the I-5, it's obvious why U.S. Soccer chose to award the region one of five high-stakes, high-profile Hexagonal home dates despite what once seemed like insurmountable obstacles: the Pacific Northwest’s distance from CONCACAF foes (not to mention the European clubs that employ most of the American players), and the fact that both the Sounders and Timbers play on artificial turf.

It was only the potential for an enormous, overwhelmingly pro-American crowd at Seattle’s 67,000-seat CenturyLink Field that ultimately trumped both of those concerns -- even if it meant playing a pivotal match on a highly suspect temporary grass field; even if capacity at the venue was limited to 42,000 because baseball’s Mariners had a game scheduled next door the same night; and even if to get there, U.S. players would have to endure a nine-hour, 3,000-plus-mile flight from Jamaica just three days before the game.

“We want to make sure our fans get out there and support it full force,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said in March when Seattle was officially handed hosting rights.

On the eve of the contest, that’s questionable.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with fans putting club ahead of country, even if two Sounders -- Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans -- could start for the U.S. Ticket prices (ranging from $55 to $190) aren't cheap, and anyway, clubs, not national teams, have always formed the backbone of the planet's most popular sport even in tradition-rich countries like England and Italy, where it isn’t unusual to see storied local sides outdrawing their international counterparts.

Still, the underwhelming response from the ticket-buying public in Seattle makes it hard to justify the risks that come with playing on a field described as "ridiculously terrible" or by subjecting the home team to more grueling travel.

That’s not to say the atmosphere won’t end up being electric on Tuesday, or that the U.S. players won’t get a lift from being treated like rock stars since touching down Saturday afternoon. But the hard truth is, unless those last 6,000 seats get snapped up between now and Tuesday’s kickoff, citizens of Soccer City won’t be able to complain too loudly if and when Seattle is overlooked four years from now. They’ll be too busy wondering just how they let the opportunity slip by.

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