2003 – Around the World and Close to Home The United States and Britain launch war against Iraq, citing its Weapons of Mass Destruction as a threat to world security. Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates during re-entry, killing seven astronauts, including former Washington residents Michael Anderson and William McCool. The FIFA Women’s World Cup is moved from China to the U.S. following a SARS outbreak in southern China. Captured serial Green River Killer Gary Ridgway pleads guilty to murdering 48 women between 1982-1998. Spokane Valley incorporates to become the state’s ninth-largest city. Washington experiences its driest summer on record, receiving just 1.09 inches of precipitation. Seattle Storm center Lauren Jackson, at 22, becomes the youngest WNBA player to score 1000 points in a season and is voted MVP.
A World-Class Stadium, Right Here
For many, it would be the sea of red and green spectacle which would trigger feelings of new or restored pride in our soccer community’s power of passion. However, for Fred Mendoza the Aha-moment arrived a couple days before Manchester United and Celtic met before a packed house in Seattle.
Essentially the sport’s dedicated representative on the Washington State Public Stadium Authority board, Mendoza visited then-Seahawks Stadium to survey the match setting and inspect for himself the newly laid sod.
He had taken off his shoes and walked toward the center of the pitch. “I stood there in the middle for the longest time,” he remembers. “That’s when it hit me: Standing on that grass I thought, man, we really built a world-class soccer stadium right here, in the middle of Seattle.”
While the $400 million stadium had opened 11 months earlier and since had hosted more than a dozen games, including a U.S. Men’s National Team friendly, the Man United-Celtic meeting was truly seminal. It had been a generation since a Seattle soccer crowd topped 50,000, and now regional attendance record would be broken, and the world reawakened to the level of fervor in these parts.
Bypassed for the 1994 World Cup and Major League Soccer because a suitable stadium was lacking, Seattle would reenter the conversation as 66,722 cheered and chanted their way through a warm summer evening, with United fans smiling the most following their 4-nil win. Mendoza soaked-in that thick atmosphere and enjoyed it immensely. There had never been any question of the turnout over 50,000 tickets were sold in the first few hours, back in March. The biggest variable was that trucked-in lawn.
Originally, in 1997, the soccer community voted the stadium into existence by the slimmest of margins, and they did so after being promised a natural grass surface which would lure back a professional team and international dates. Then came the catch. Midway through construction, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren wanted FieldTurf installed. The soccer community bristled, with Mendoza receiving a daily deluge of emails and phone calls reminding him “not to dare give in” to artificial turf.
After months of back-and-forth and after several key community leaders relented, favoring compromise, Mendoza entered negotiations with Paul Allen’s First and Goal, operators of both the Seahawks and stadium, toward amendments to the lease. First, no permanent gridiron lines to be stitched into the turf. Next, if there’s an international match and soccer organizers want a grass surface, it will be installed – and if the crowd exceeds 40,000, First and Goal will pay for it. Finally, if MLS comes to Seattle and requires a grass surface, F&G will install grass permanently.
Twelve hours before the September 27, 2001, PSA vote, with the meeting extending late into the night, Mendoza’s terms were agreed upon. The board’s vote was 6-1. When Seahawks Stadium opened the following August, community leaders presented Mendoza a trophy inscribed, “Fred Mendoza: Builder of dreams, keeper of promises.”
The real test of that lease language was Manchester United-Celtic. These were two sides of world-class talent, with managers of exacting standards, and an international audience would join the capacity crowd in judging how the temporary grass performs. While a few players remarked that it played a bit slippery on the flanks (Mendoza attributes that to over-watering rather than the sod itself), Seattle’s new venue passed the test.
“That match was so huge,” testifies Mendoza. “We had built that stadium on promises. I had told our community that this stadium would bring back international soccer, that we will get MLS and that now the World Cup could come to Seattle.”
With the first two promises kept the opportunity for the latter will come in 2026. Mendoza noted that the permanent grass surface required by FIFA can be accommodated much of the underground elements and drainage components already exist, under the carpet. By the time that field would be developed, Mendoza will mark 29 years on the PSA board. He could check-off the last box, all his promises kept.