Some would say Adrian Hanauer has every reason to soak in the atmosphere at CenturyLink Field on Sunday when over 66,000 people will pack the stands for a regular season match between the Sounders FC and Portland Timbers.
It will likely be the second-largest stand-alone crowd in MLS history, bested only by the opening match between the LA Galaxy and San Jose Clash at the LA Coliseum in 1996.
Hanauer, after all, spent seven seasons as steward of Seattle soccer, shepherding the USL franchise before finally having the opportunity to bring Major League Soccer to Seattle in 2009. The success of the club on and off the field is the fruit of his labor of love for all of those years.
However, he doesn’t seek praise for the record-breaking crowds that watch the Sounders FC play week-in and week-out. Instead he credits the owners that trudged through the early years of MLS to make weekends like this possible, where the crowd will be at near-record levels in Seattle in a game broadcast nationally on ESPN.
“I think first and foremost it speaks volumes about the league overall. We wouldn’t be here without the partners who have come before us and plowed the soil and gotten us to a point where something like this was possible,” Hanauer said on Friday. “Certainly our fans here continue to amaze us and Sunday will be a another example of that. I, personally, have never been as bullish as I am right now about the continued growth of the league. There are a lot of good days ahead.”
It is not just the attendance figures in Seattle that have impressed Hanauer. Ten of the league’s 18 teams that played in 2011 saw increases in attendance in 2012, but the passion of those fans is what has grabbed the attention of the Sounders FC owner and general manager.
After hosting 32,523 at CenturyLink Field for the inaugural match in 2009, the Sounders have seen annual increases and this year are averaging 42,086. Those increases are surprising even with the high aspirations of Hanauer and the Sounders ownership group.
“We knew it would be successful, but I think even in our wildest dreams having three games this year averaging 60,000 is probably beyond what even my big-thinking majority partner Joe Roth would have envisioned. But we had our sights set on big things for this franchise,” Hanauer said. “I hope in Seattle that we get to the place where 60,000 fan crowds aren’t really a story anymore because they are happening on such a regular basis. But I’m not presumptuous to assume that will happen. I hope that we keep things headed in the right direction so that is the case.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 6 pm Pacific on Sunday at CenturyLink Field. Fans are encouraged to arrive early.