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Soccer City USA

The beautiful game has, unquestionably, taken the city of Seattle by storm in 2009.

Est. 1996
2009 Record: 12-6-12, 1st in West
Playoff Route: Beat Chivas USA 3-2, Beat Houston Dynamo 2-0 AET
Head Coach: Bruce Arena
Players to watch: F Landon Donovan (12 G, 6 A, MVP), M David Beckham (2 G, 3 A), F Edson Buddle (5 G), GK Donovan Ricketts (9 SO, 1.03 GAA)

Est. 2005
2009 Record: 11-12-7, 5th in West
Playoff Route: Beat Columbus 4-2, Beat Chicago Fire 0-0 (5-4 on penalties)
Head Coach: Jason Kreis
Players to watch: M Kyle Beckerman (3 G, 2 A), F Robbie Findley (12 G, 4 A), F Yura Movsisyan (8 G, 2 A), GK Nick Rimando (9 SO, 1.14 GAA)

The beautiful game has, unquestionably, taken the city of Seattle by storm in 2009.  So much has the ownership group headed by Joe Roth impacted the face of soccer in America that earlier this week, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber declared Seattle to be Soccer City USA.

“Thanks to Joe for all that he’s done with his partners to build the sport in a city that truly has become Soccer City USA,” Garber said Thursday at a playground build at Van Asselt Elementary school in Seattle.

With 22,000 season ticket holders and attendance figures that surpassed all league records, the Sounders FC has become one of the most recognizable brands in the league and has set a new standard for off-field success.   And as the MLS continues to grow, it is Seattle that is at the forefront.

“Franchises like Seattle obviously are great for the league.  If we continue to have franchises like this, fans like Seattle has, you know, you look at Real Salt Lake with the stadium we have now.  I think it’s going great,” said goalkeeper Nick Rimando, whose Real Salt Lake club will take on the LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup final Sunday at 5:30 at Qwest Field.  “When I came into the league, it started out slow.  We didn’t know exactly where the league was going to go.  Now it’s blossomed.  Hopefully it’s going to continue to grow.”

Seattle achieved great success on the field, winning the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and becoming the first expansion franchise to reach the playoffs since 1998.  But the Galaxy and Real Salt Lake players couldn’t help but gush about the support the team receives.

“They’re not only an excitable crowd, they’re a knowledgeable crowd.  They know and understand what’s going on.  This is, in my opinion, a perfect place to have a game like this,” said Galaxy forward and MLS MVP Landon Donovan.  “For us, it’s so exciting today going out in training.  You can already picture what the atmosphere is going to be like when we go out.  I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Added LA midfielder David Beckham, “You can see and feel the effects that this Seattle teams have had on the city.  So it’s a great place to have the final.  Hopefully the atmosphere will be as good for our game on Sunday as it is in every other game for the Sounders.”

And Beckham should know just how the Seattle crowd can respond.  Playing with Real Madrid, Beckham came to Seattle for an exhibition match with DC United in 2006 and played in front of a crowd of 66,830 – a record for soccer in Seattle until 66,848 saw FC Barcelona top the Sounders FC 4-0 this August.

“It’s a bit colder now than it was when I was here with Madrid,” Beckham said.  “It’s an incredible setup with the fans.  We’re honored to be playing here.”

Rimando was with DC United in 2006 and had fond memories of the crowd for that match.

“To play here in front of 40-plus thousand people is going to be a great experience.  But, you know, I experienced it the first game here and, even before the Sounders were here, when DC United played Real Madrid in the stadium,” he said.  “The fans came out for that.  We knew it was going to be something special when a team did come here.”

The atmosphere Sunday night should be interesting to say the least.  With the lower bowl sold out, 6,000 extra seats were opened in the upper bowl.  The players know how remarkable those fans can be when cheering on their home side, but how those fans will be rooting on Sunday is yet to be seen.  And both sides are lobbied for their support on Friday.

“Hopefully all the Sounders fans will get on our side for the game.  We were actually hoping that LA would have beaten Seattle so maybe they would have gone to our side,” said Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman.  “But it will be a good atmosphere.   We’re hoping it will be a packed house.  Everybody wants to play in front of that.”