Twice denied a promotion to the top flight, Seattle finds the perfect combination to seize a Major League Soccer franchise the third time around. With a robust, multi-faceted ownership group that is connected with a stadium which always had soccer in mind and an organization with savvy to pull all the right levers. Within hours it’s apparent this cocktail is proving irresistible to long suffering fans.
Nine months after awakening to the notion he must invest in MLS, Hollywood producer Joe Roth stands before an audience as majority owner of the league’s 15th team. On November 13, he is joined by Adrian Hanauer, owner of the USL Sounders, and Tod Leiweke, chief executive of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s sports empire, most notably featuring the NFL Seahawks and First and Goal, which operates Qwest Field. Rounding out the group is comedian and game show host Drew Carey, who introduces the concept of fans empowered to vote out an underperforming GM.
The announcement at the top of Seattle’s tallest building, the Columbia Center, is done on a cool, crisp autumn day with an unobstructed view into Qwest Field, which will be tailored to the sport at hand. It is a stadium that came into being via a referendum where the state’s soccer community made all the difference.
It has been 24 years since Seattle was associated with America’s highest level of professional soccer. A bid to become an MLS charter member in 1994 was denied for lack of a suitable stadium. In 2005, a second run, for an expansion side, came up short. This time, all the pieces are in place: Allen’s Seahawks give the new club a top-class sports organization on Day One. Roth has a lofty vision for what the team and league can soon become, and Hanauer brings history of steadfast local involvement in the game.
The yet-to-be-named team, the first in the Pacific Northwest, will begin play in 2009. The queue for seats starts immediately. In the first 24 hours following the announcement come 3,000 season ticket deposits. After one week, the demand rises to 6,500, then 10,000 after a month.
The MLS announcement comes after months of buzz. Rumors of various potential owners circling the area come forth just as the Sounders season is gaining momentum. The USL team climbs the table while simultaneously blazing a path toward the U.S. Open Cup. Arch-rival Portland is vanquished, then MLS sides Chivas USA and Colorado, setting up a semifinal meeting with FC Dallas that’s decided in extra time. While the Sounders are eliminated, 2-1, they respond in strength.
Seattle wins six of its final seven matches in regular season and playoffs, culminating in a convincing conquest in the USL championship game, 4-0 over Atlanta. Despite the rain, a record crowd of nearly 5,000 at Starfire is in a celebratory mood from the outset, joyously marking the triumphant close of one era while beginning another.