Professional football and soccer have been intertwined since the Sounders first launched in 1974. And in 1997, the two sports that share and oblong box for a field united to find a way to ensure their future.
Major League Soccer had bypassed Seattle when issuing charter franchises for 1996 due to a lack of a proper stadium. When Ken Behring began packing up the Seahawks for a move to Southern California in early 1997, that, too, was rooted in the argument that the Kingdome was no longer suitable.
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen stepped in, offering to buy the Hawks and keep them in Seattle. However, Allen had one condition: a new $425M stadium and a request that the public pay for the first $300M. It was a hard sell.
As it turns out, the soccer community came to the rescue. In the closely-contested statewide vote on Referendum 48, the victory was delivered by the soccer vote. Two months after polls showed the measure lagging at 43 percent, it won with 51 percent. The turning point, many say, was when soccer leaders got involved in the campaign.
MLS Commissioner Doug Logan said, "I'm sure they (the soccer vote) accounted for more than 1 percent."
"The suburbs supported this by a huge margin," added Alan Rothenberg, U.S. Soccer president. "I have a feeling that's all the soccer people, the grassroots folks."
Because of the vote, the Seahawks’ future would be in Seattle, and once the stadium was completed in 2002, big time soccer was sure to follow.
Other fields of dreams were also realized this year. On the east side of the state, Spokane’s Plantes Ferry Park, a former tree plantation, was set to become a 70-acre new youth sports complex of 14 soccer fields, 4 softball and picnic area. The $1.5 million sports complex project was a joint venture between the Spokane Valley Junior Soccer Association and Spokane County Parks.
In Seattle, both the University of Washington and Seattle Pacific opened long-awaited home venues less than a week apart. Husky Soccer Stadium finally gave the UW men and women a field with proper capacity and locker rooms within the Montlake athletic complex. Less than a mile from the SPU campus, $3.3M Interbay Stadium, a dedicated soccer facility, was the result of a partnership between the university and city.
The professional front was once more fraught with highs and significant lows. Ten years after the indoor Tacoma Stars came with minutes of winning a championship, the Seattle SeaDogs finished the job. The SeaDogs swept their six playoff games and won 27 of 35 games overall to take the CISL title. But two months later, the CISL disbanded.
Outdoors, the Sounders got their first taste of international competition. By virtue of the 1996 A-League championship, Seattle qualified for the CONCACAF Champions Cup. Following an encouraging start, they were promptly humbled by much stronger Mexican clubs, suffering a record defeat.