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Originally published June 10, 2010 at 10:01 PM | Page modified June 11, 2010 at 2:59 PM

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Soccer-mad Seattle gets pumped up for the World Cup

Seattle is widely regarded as America's most soccer-mad city, and its fans are prepared for the World Cup, which starts Friday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Follow the 2010 World Cup with our dynamic fan's guide that has team, group, schedule and venue info as well as live match stats from the first kick on June 11 to the final whistle on July 11.

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Where to watch the World Cup

It's doubtful your office has a World Cup bracket pool like it did for March Madness.

That would be the World Cup of soccer that we're talking about. And it starts Friday.

The fact is that in the U.S., viewership for the last World Cup Final was just a fraction of that for the Super Bowl.

But Seattle is widely regarded as America's most soccer-mad city. Sounders home games have sold out 24 straight times, Washington Youth Soccer has 140,000 members, and about 30 local bars plan to show World Cup games, some of them starting at 4:30 a.m.

Come Saturday, many in the sport's ever-growing local fan base will be at those bars, or with friends in front of a big-screen TV, nervously awaiting the U.S. team's first game, against England.

Looking for a place that'd hold a large number of people, the Emerald City Supporters fan club helped book the 650-capacity Neumos, a hipster bar on Capitol Hill, for a World Cup viewing party that starts Saturday at 8 in the morning.

Booze and fish and chips will be available for breakfast, which should make English soccer types feel at home. Neumos says it has never had such a booking for a Super Bowl party.

But then, Sounders fans are just a bit different from other sports fans.

And there are an ever-growing number of hard-core soccer fans in the Seattle area; mostly guys, like Dave Clark, 35, a roaster and quality taster for Starbucks.

Admittedly, someone like Clark is considerably more passionate about soccer than the average fan.

It's not just the eight soccer scarves he owns, choosing one to wear each game day as he stands and chants during the entire match.

It's that you gotta have passion to run a popular blog called "Sounder at Heart." In the past two years, Clark has put up 684 postings, spending a couple of hours a night at his Renton home on them.

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He says his wife, Kristin, a marketing researcher who attends maybe three or four Sounders games a year, has at times expressed "a little bit" of irritation at the time he spends blogging.

"It's like any other hobby," Clark defends himself. "You also can get sucked into reading a lot."

"Seattle gets it"

Why did Seattle take soccer to heart? Only Toronto rivals us in the mania for its MLS team.

"It was the perfect storm," says Terry Fisher, head of Washington Youth Soccer.

He's had a chance to watch soccer evolve in this state for the past 44 years, since his group was founded. It now has 140,000 kids on its rosters, double from 20 years ago. It's now the fifth-largest youth state association in the country.

Says Fisher: "It's the makeup of the community, with people with a lot of international experience who are a sophisticated audience. It was perfect marketing. It's parents who knew the game as kids. It's the affection for the old Sounders [the initial pro team by the same name here from 1974 to 1983].

"Kansas City doesn't get it. Dallas doesn't get it. Seattle gets it."

For someone like Greg Mockos, 27, an Army brat who spent from age 2 until 19 in Italy, seeing professional soccer at a top level, and seeing the passion of the fans, was a regular experience.

Now he can witness the same passion he witnessed in the Italian leagues. Go to a Sounders game, and you might end up standing for the entire match because of the chanting fans in front of you.

Mockos is a co-president of the Emerald City Supporters, the largest Sounders fan club, with a paid membership of 2,000.

You can log onto its website and print out the song sheets.

The songs range from the innocence of "Sha-la-la, la-la, la-la-la" to the bit more laddie-like, "We came to drink, we came to sing ... Whoa, whoa ... Burn, destroy, wreck and kill ... Whoa, whoa ... "

The lyrics might not be your cup of tea, but what the Seattle fans are doing is mimicking what they've seen on cable and satellite games from overseas, although without the thuggish behavior that has marred games in other countries.

"It's like a big community, a big family singing and chanting, all standing," says Mockos.

For Mockos, there is a big difference between that kind of noise, and the noise at a Seahawks game.

"They're just yelling and generating white noise," he says about NFL fans.

Soccer resurgence

And the soccer fans are drawn to bars offering that publike atmosphere that can remind fans of watching a match in England or Ireland as they sip a few pints.

One of those places is the Fado Irish Pub on First Avenue, part of a small nationwide chain.

It's been in Seattle for 10 years, and the Seattle outlet was voted last year "Best Soccer Bar" by the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Gerry Leonard, the general manager, talks to his customers and over the years has noticed a change in their makeup.

He says, "Four years ago it was 50-50 between Europeans and Americans coming in to watch English soccer. Now it's more like 75-25 Americans. Maybe they played the game as teenagers, then kind of drifted away, and now are coming back with the popularity of the Sounders."

There is no denying the Sounders have done masterful marketing campaign, from retaining the name of the old team, to creating a membership council of season-ticket holders that has the power to vote on decisions affecting the club. The club says it's the only pro sports team in the U.S. that does that.

All of which doesn't mean that professional soccer will become a dominant sport in the U.S.

But, with so many cable and satellite services, it has become a popular niche sport.

All it takes is one mind-changing experience to be hooked, which is what Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller says happened when his dad, Bernie Keller, in 1992 made his trip first outside the U.S.

He flew to England to watch his son play for the club Millwall.

"My dad had always been a little skeptical as to why I chose to be a soccer player," Keller says. "But then he watched that first game with me playing in England, and he was completely sold.

"He said, 'If you can only bring this atmosphere, this level of play, to America.' "

It's happening, it's happening.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

U.S. OPENER

USA vs. England, 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Channel 4

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