Seattle spirit & economy boosted by Sounders

SEATTLE - The Seattle Sounders were routed by European champions Barcelona in an exhibition game on Wednesday but the fans of Major League Soccer's newest franchise did not care. The team are a massive success, pulling in twice as many fans as the league average and boosting morale in a city starved of sports victories and working through the recession.

"We just love them in this town. We've been waiting for a team for a long time," Dan Sego, a 52-year-old engineer, said on outside Qwest Field.

"The stadium is packed. It's lifted the soccer community."

A sell-out crowd of 67,000 - a state record for soccer - watched Barcelona hand the local team in bright green a footballing lesson in a 4-0 victory. But it did not dampen the enthusiasm of their even more colourful followers.

"There's a huge soccer community in Seattle that I don't think most of the world understands or realises," said 47-year-old Seattle fan Jess Gobel.

"We appreciate the game, and we love the game."

Despite the city's reputation for gloomy weather and reserved attitude, Seattleites leapt at the chance to party on game day.

More than 1,000 fans in the team's "rave green" jerseys - a few with face paint and rainbow wigs - meet before every game in a downtown park to chant and sing with the help of Sound Wave, the team's official 53-piece marching band.

After a procession to the stadium on Wednesday, Sound Wave cut loose with a medley of funk, Latin and pop tunes rearranged for brass and booming drums.

"The Sounders are phenomenal," said Jeffrey Goligoski, who travelled four hours with his nephew to see the pre-game festivities.

"Budget and time mean we can't see every match, but if we could we would."

'EVERYONE'S INTO IT'

Win or lose, the locals are determined to celebrate.

They are still sore from losing the Seattle SuperSonics basketball franchise last year to Oklahoma City, while the Seattle Seahawks football team and Seattle Mariners baseball team are in the doldrums.

The Sounders are in the chase to be MLS champions, two-thirds of the way through the regular season, standing second in the western conference behind Houston Dynamo.

It is a measure of the Sounders' progress that Barcelona would even consider stepping on the same field.

"The Pacific Northwest has always loved football (soccer). It's the biggest participatory sport and it's slowly becoming the biggest viewed sport," said Chris Rose, who travels 140 miles (226 km) from Vancouver, Canada for Sounders home games.

"Within a five-mile radius this is like England. Everybody's wearing their jerseys, everyone's upbeat, everyone's into it."

Rose is ready to switch allegiance in 2011 when Vancouver enters a team into the MLS. Portland, 175 miles south of Seattle, also has a team joining that year, setting up a hot regional rivalry.

ECONOMIC BOOST

The City of Seattle has not published any data on the economic impact of the new team but businesses close to the stadium are glad