This is part two of a series of articles highlighting soccer fans in the United States and why they are the best fans in this country.
It is a simple fact when discussing American professional soccer and it’s fans; there are two different ways to build a team. Path one: build a roster of already established superstars in their prime or past their prime by attraction of money and lifestyle. Path two: develop a fan base and soccer culture thereby creating superstars through the organization. Both routes have proven to be successful as far as it stands on paper; but what is the best for the league? If franchises like the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls are the “face” of American soccer, then the Pacific Northwest is the heart.
Now it’s time for an American history lesson. In the 1970s the professional league in the US was the NASL (North American Soccer League), and was not much to say for until the New York Cosmos appeared. Led by the vision, passion, and wallet of Warner CEO Steve Ross the Cosmos created a 10 year traveling spectacle of some of the world’s greatest players including Pelé, Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia, and Franz Beckenbauer. The Cosmos won five titles with their super squad, but after the loss of finances in Warner Company and internal struggles, the New York Cosmos folded as quickly as they rose to glory; meanwhile, bringing the NASL down with them. But something that did not waver and remained the same in American soccer was the growing fan movement in the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, and Vancouver Whitecaps all grew from the early NASL days and soon developed undying support from the open and innovative people of the Northwest. Even though all the attention was on the Cosmos, the fan base of each club grew steadily and the foundations of their fan-hood began.
Fast forward through different leagues and eras of soccer and not much has changed in the Pacific Northwest. All three clubs are firmly established in the MLS and have the best fan support in the country. Meanwhile teams like the Galaxy and Red Bulls continue to spend money on big name players and eventually it has been successful. But as the big faces begin to disappear from the clubs, what will happen to the support of the franchise? While big financial clubs bought the Beckhams and the Henrys, the Northwest birthed the Roger Levesques and the Kasey Kellers. Who will be more loyal: a bought outsider superstar or a home grown developed superstar? Ask Kasey Keller where he wanted to end his career, it wasn’t a historic European club, it was the team he grew up watching in the 1970s–the Seattle Sounders.
There are two different ways to build a team in MLS; both seem to be successful, but only one seems to be lasting. There is no shame in paying for success, the league needs superstars and villains for the parody of game. But ask a Seattle, Portland, or Vancouver fan where they’ll be in 30 or 40 years. They’ll be right in the stands cheering on their club with passion and pride, all the while giving the big spending clubs the finger.