1. Seattle Sounders FC
Average 2013 attendance:
Baseball teams it outdraws:
All but the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants
Forget for a moment that the Sounders are nearly doubling the attendance of MLB's Mariners, who play right next door to the Sounders' CenturyLink Field in Safeco Field. Even the Houston Dynamo and their 19,465 fans per game outdraw the 18,271 that baseball's Houston Astros bring in every night.
This year, on average, the Sounders are outdrawing the Yankees, the Mets, the Angels, the Nationals, the Boston Red Sox, the Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies, the Chicago Cubs and White Sox and the Detroit Tigers.
Those are marquee baseball clubs and, in many cases, storied franchises that the Sounders and their Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC backers can outdraw with ease this year. Let's put it this way: When the Sounders played their Cascadia Cup rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps earlier this season, they packed the place with more than 50,000 fans. When the U.S. men's national team came into town for a World Cup qualifier against Panama, they struggled to sell 42,000 tickets.
Soccer culture in the Seattle area runs deeper than outsiders can possibly imagine. Yes, star women's national team goalkeeper Hope Solo and longtime men's national team keeper Kasey Keller are from around here, along with dozens of other professional players and coaches. Yes, Marymoor Park just outside the city teems with leagues and active soccer fields are a common sight in much of the rest of Washington as well.
There's a simple explanation for this: Unlike other thin-skinned U.S. sports, soccer doesn't stop everything and run for the hills once a little rain falls. In the Seattle area's case, that rain's falling more often than not. If you want to play here, you have to play through it.
That fuels a passion for soccer -- specifically Pacific Northwest soccer -- that's unparalleled elsewhere in the league. Like their Pacific Northwest rivals in Portland and Vancouver, the Sounders' NASL tradition (1974-83) and longstanding lower-level rivalries gave the club a bit of a head start when it joined MLS in 2009. The ties run so deep that Sounders fans joined Vancouver and Portland fan groups to keep the
-- awarded each year to the team with the best record in games between the three franchises -- out of the hands of MLS and maintain it as an independent entity.
It's a town and region that's seen soccer leagues come and go over the past 40 years, but has enough passion to keep its beloved teams constant -- an enduring reminder of soccer's bond with a region unafraid to hit the pitch beneath a gray pall.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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