The chants of “USA! USA! USA!” rang through the night sky in downtown Seattle on Tuesday night.
It was the 36th minute and Jozy Altidore had just scored his second goal in consecutive matches for the US Men’s National Team in a World Cup qualifying match. Suddenly, all of the questions about how the city would support the Stars and Stripes were answered as 40,847 streamed into CenturyLink Field, marking the seventh-largest home crowd for a home World Cup qualifier in US Soccer history.
Without question, the atmosphere left an indelible impression on US Soccer President Sunil Gulati.
“It’s the biggest crowd we’ll have for qualifying. Seattle’s a great market and it’s a good thing that the Sounders get 35 or 40 thousand people and you get 93,000 people over (72) hours that come to watch games. It’s a great soccer town and the whole experience is positive,” Gulati said after the US posted a 2-0 victory over Panama to take over the top spot in the Hexagonal Round. “We would do that again, sure.”
Players throughout the US National Team echoed that sentiment.
“You can’t talk about the game tonight without talking about the crowd,” said midfielder Michael Bradley, who has 76 caps. “Unbelievable. The best crowd I’ve played in (front of) in the United States, without a doubt. A big thank you to everybody in this city who made this a special night for us. People don’t know what a difference it makes when you play in an atmosphere like this.”
The songs from the crowd at CenturyLink Field had a familiar feel to them, the rhythmic chants coming in large volume from the south end of the stadium where the Emerald City Supporters normally make their presence felt – and heard – throughout every match for the Sounders FC.
However, the words were slightly different, with “Yankees” and “the US” replacing “Sounders” in some songs.
Not to mention the colors in the stands. Whereas ECS is typically decked out in Rave Green or black, the American Outlaws donned their red on Tuesday night with bits of white and blue mixed in.
The crowd had no qualms with cheering for players throughout the US squad. Even LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez applauded the atmosphere.
“To hear how loud it got at some points of the game was really incredible. I’m really happy that we did get to play here in Seattle,” he smiled. “For once, it’s nice for these guys to be cheering for me.”
Players from leagues around the world left the stadium impressed by what they saw at CenturyLink Field. But so were players who play in Seattle every week, as Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson led the way in heaping praise on the outpouring of support from the Seattle crowd.
Evans played in the Sounders FC’s inaugural match in 2009 and even he was awestruck by the magnitude of the event.
“It was insane,” he beamed. “From warmups until thanking the crowd after the game, it was absolutely nuts.”
Evans and Johnson had been talking to teammates throughout the week about what to expect when they took the field. When the match ended and the team convened in the locker room, they confirmed what they had been told all week – Seattle is untouched in crowd support.
“I’ve been telling the guys throughout the week to wait until gameday and see how the fans are. That’s all the boys have been talking about in the dressing room – the crowd and, I’m not saying any names, but how they want to play in Seattle one day,” Johnson said. “That’s good to hear. To play here week-in and week-out, I’m grateful.”
Added Evans, “Everybody’s so impressed. It’s really gratifying for them to be outspoken about it. Now that it’s here, you better believe there will be more to come in the future.”
It had been nearly 37 years since the last time the US played a World Cup qualifier in Seattle. If there’s one thing that happened on Tuesday, it was a virtual assurance that the fans in the crowd won’t have to wait 37 years more to repeat that opportunity.