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A belly bump in Seattle says it all
by Ridge Mahoney, October 28th, 2009 7AM

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[MLS] In a season rife with memorable scenes from Qwest Field, a tiny tableaux just after the final whistle Saturday set off the last regular-season game just about right. Minority investor and extremely funny guy Drew Carey, swathed in a scarf, roamed across the field, and spotted majority investor and entertainment entrepreneur Joe Roth similarly attired and beaming just as broadly. Without a word or gesture, the two men, with combined ages solidly into three figures, joyfully and shamelessly jumped in unison to slam their bellies together.

One can't envision Philip Anschutz and Tim Leiweke, or John Wagner and Clark Hunt, or any other investors celebrating in quite that way. (Maybe they do this after every victory). Yet for Carey and Roth, and general manager Adrian Hanauer, and Vulcan Sports & Entertainment point man Tod Leiweke, and the tens of thousands of fans who set league records for season-tickets and average attendance, that belly bump put an exclamation point on a remarkable inaugural year steeped in doing things as well as possible.

"In Seattle, you have to be good, you have to win, you have to be exciting," says assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, a native son who signed with the NASL Sounders out of high school in 1980 and coached the USL-1 team to a pair of league titles. "If so the fans will come out. Here, we get four or five months of good weather. People like to go sailing and boating on Puget Sound and all that.

"You have to have something that will draw them away from all the outdoor activities, so as long as we keep doing what we're doing here, there will be a demand for tickets."

Demand for Thursday's playoff game against Houston (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2) has exceeded the facility's MLS capacity of approximately 32,400, so an additional 3,000 tickets in the upper deck - normally closed off for league matches - were made available and quickly sold.

"Technically, we still have some scattered seats available," said senior VP of business operations Gary Wright Tuesday afternoon, "but in essence we're sold out. We're at 35,6[00], something like that.

"It's a great soccer city that understands the game and the entire city is catching the fever. It's very, very cool."

Those fans will again see a field nearly devoid of football lines, as was the case when the Sounders rallied to beat Dallas, 2-1, on Saturday with another raucous sellout crowd in attendance. "Our guys work hard," says Wright of the crew that maintains the FieldTurf surface for the Sounders and NFL Seahawks. "We have a commitment to present a clean field.

"I don't know if there's any magic. We've invested a lot of money in equipment. I don't know exactly what they use, but our fields guy - John Wright, no relation - is one of the premier fields guys in the country. He is really good at what he does and takes such pride in what he does. He knows how important presentation is."

There will not be a grass field for MLS Cup 2009, as there was during the summer when Barcelona and Real Madrid played friendlies. After consulting with sod manufacturers in the Northwest, team officials concluded they couldn't guarantee that a field laid in late November - well outside the normal growing period -- would be firm and healthy enough to stage a championship game.

"It's not a real good time of the year to put that down," said Wright. "We feel pretty good about our field. I know it's not grass, and I know for the soccer purist it has to be grass, but John Wright and his staff take very good care of it. They manicure it like it's a grass field."

As far as playing in front of more than 30,000 fans and entire sections of chanting, dancing, singing crazies, defender Tyrone Marshall - who won a title on turf with the Galaxy in 2002 at Gillette Stadium -- says, "There's noise before the kickoff, after the kickoff, during the kickoff, it doesn't matter, they go the whole game. It's like a European atmosphere. That's what we like.

"Sometimes in a game you tend to fall asleep but not here. The crowd's into it, we're into it, and you kind of feed off the momentum."

Gary Wright confirmed that if the Sounders reach MLS Cup, the entire stadium will be opened up to a capacity of 67,000, which would be the largest crowd to attend a league championship. Playoff games are not part of the season-ticket package, but the title game is; full season-ticket sales reached 22,000 before they were cut off. The team has a waiting list of 8,000 for next season.

"We've got a long, long way to go before that happens," says Wright of playing in the final while staging it. "But do you doubt that we'd sell it out? I don't."



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