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Originally published Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 7:13 PM

Steve Kelley

Seattle providing blueprint for how soccer can prosper

Nothing about the Sounders' experience is scripted. Soccer fans don't accept fake frenzy.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Walking wide-eyed into Century Link Field on Saturday night, Claudio Reyna, the original Captain America, a three-time U.S. World Cupper, a veteran of more than a decade of games in Europe, listened to the singing, heard the thumping of the drums, felt the sizzle of anticipation and thought to himself, "This is real."

More than 64,000 people were coming into this football stadium to watch a futbol game.

On a college football Saturday, only hours after 62,147 fans watched the continuing rise of Washington's program inside Husky Stadium, another crowd swelled another stadium to celebrate the career of the Sounders' homegrown goalkeeper, Kasey Keller.

This night felt real, and when it comes to soccer in America, to quote hip-hop singer Drake, "Real is on the rise."

Seattle is the launching pad.

"At times in the past, I think we've tried to build up things in the stadium to make it (soccer) look and feel like the real product," Reyna said. "But this was real."

Nothing about the Sounders' experience is scripted. Soccer fans don't accept fake frenzy. For Sounders games, there is no scoreboard cheerleading. No electronic message asking fans to "Make Some Noise."

This is the way it used to be in all sports and the way it still is for soccer in the rest of the world. It's never quiet at a Sounders game. The action may ebb, but the human hum in the stadium never does.

"To see 64,000 people, from the beginning, doing that clap thing, this was just an amazing sight," said Brian McBride, who, like Reyna, is a former national-team teammate of Keller's. "I mean, unless we were playing the Mexican national team, crowds like this were unheard of when we played."

In the prime of Reyna's career, there was no MLS. He had to go to Germany, Scotland and England. He retired in 2008 as a member of the Red Bulls. McBride was the captain at Fulham and finished his career last season with the Chicago Fire.

"I think there were times where we all had doubts if we would see nights like this," said Reyna, who is the technical director for American youth soccer. "I'd be lying if I said we didn't doubt the potential ability for soccer to take off here. I doubted it. I spent most of my career in Europe, and to see the passion and to see what it meant over there ...

"Hopefully, in the future, all of the American players only have one vision and one goal and that's to play in this country. We're used to having so many different sports in our country, and I've always thought soccer would be an uphill battle, but nights like this make everything seem possible."

This night was as close to perfection as sports can get.

The Sounders had played a desultory first hour. The team was as flat as a painting and it took Keller, 41, who was playing in his last regular-season home game, to ignite his team.

With the Sounders down 1-0, he made a quartet of remarkable saves — launching his body at shots like a 25-year-old — that dramatically changed the momentum.

Riding the subsequent crescendo of the crowd, Sammy Ochoa and Fredy Montero scored goals in the final eight minutes of regulation to give Seattle a 2-1 win.

"The whole experience was great. I'm so happy for Kasey," McBride said. "To have these 64,000 fans for a regular-season MLS game is very special."

This wasn't just a game. It was an event. As soccer continues its inexorable growth in this country, it will be remembered as one of those signature moments in the sport's American evolution.

"We, the MLS and the U.S. national team, have gone through some tough times as a sport," Reyna said, "and if you look now at both, I think they're both in great positions and very healthy and ready to kick into good things that we couldn't have even imagined 10 years ago. Seattle's come into this league and really raised the bar. It was really an amazing experience to watch this game."

Seattle, the fans as much as the franchise, has given the rest of the country a blueprint for how the game can prosper.

"Can you look at what happened tonight and what's happening here and say, 'How can we do this in other cities?' " McBride said. "Sure. It can be done."

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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