I spent September 16 to 18 in Seattle, taking advantage of DC United’s first weekend away game against the Seattle Sounders. I stayed with cousin Phyllis Levy and her family, who despite being Sounders fans, gamely put me up and took me to the game. Friday we celebrated the 86th birthday of my aunt Essie, with dinner at a Chinese restaurant followed by Phyllis’ carrot cake at home.
I had the opportunity to reconnect with several old friends while I was in town — Reed College classmate Jon Grudin, Freeport High School classmate Tom Kellock, and Litigation Group colleague Michael Bancroft — but going to see the game was the highlight of the weekend. The game itself was eminently forgettable from a DC United perspective: we got trounced three to nothing. I accept that this is a rebuilding year, but we never know which team is going to show up — the team, that team that gives the ball away and yields soft goals, or the exciting attacking team that displays real grit in the back (for example, the team that beat Real Salt Lake at RFK stadium the following weekend). This time it was the former, and it was depressing evening to be an away fan. The problem was compounded by the boorish behavior of some of the other DC United fans, who took out their frustrations on Sounders fans who were seated nearby or passing by. Some of the Barra Brava leadership in particular could not stop yelling at the opposing fans. And as much as I have come to detest the "wings of an eagle, ass of a crow" song, it seems especially perverse to fantasize about "shit[ting] on the bastards below" when the singers themselves were there in the stadium to be shat on. I was embarrassed to be part of the same supporters section.
Beyond that, however. the fan experience was stupendous. The Sounders’ Stadium is in downtown Seattle, only three blocks from Pioneer Square. Fans gather by the hundreds, growing to the thousands, as a brass band plays.
Then they march to the stadium, chanting and singing and displaying their colors. I marched along with them, concealing my DC United jersey under my red DC United raincoat.
There were many empty seats when I got into the stadium, but the numbers continued to flow in, eventually reaching a sellout crowd of more than 36 thousand spectators. The team covers part of the seats so that it can sell all the tickets and hence create more demand for advance ticket purchases; but the number of covered seats has been getting smaller and smaller. The main Sounders supporters group is situated behind one of the goals, but fans throughout the entire stadium were intense supporters of the team. They showed their support by dressing in the team’s chartreuse colors, or wearing scarves of blue and chartreuse – well over half the fans were wearing the colors (including lots of green raincoats) and many were also painted accordingly. For me there was a stark contrast with the atmosphere at RFK stadium at DC United games, where there are various supporters groups arrayed along one side of the stadium but most of the rest of the fans are largely passive except for cheering when a goal is scored. We do have one plus over Seattle though: Seattle needs to have seats that bounce when fans jump up and down.
And fans throughout the stadium made noise – chanting Seattle.... Sounders, and clapping their hands over their heads. Maybe it was easier for them on the night, because their team was kicking butt, but I was impressed. In the first few years of the league, DC United supporters in the Screaming Eagles and eventually Barra Brava set the standard for MLS fans, but we have now been far surpassed. If we can reach the same energy and fervor and broad-based support that the Sounders enjoy, we will have come a long way.