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Popularity of Seattle Sounders could be the ‘youth soccer effect’

The Seattle Sounders advancing to the MLS Cup. (Getty Images)

A crowd of 70,000 is expected to pack CenturyLink Field this Sunday, but not for the Seahawks — the Seattle Sounders will face off against Toronto FC in the seventh and final game of the Major League Soccer Cup.

The Major League Soccer Cup, for those not familiar, is the sport’s U.S. equivalent of the Super Bowl or World Series.

The Seattle Sounders have certainly made their mark in the world of professional soccer. The team won the MLS Cup in 2016, and earned their way into the championship game for the third time in four years after defeating Los Angeles FC last week. Announcer Matt Johnson, the “voice of the Sounders,” called it the “most exciting match ever to be played by the Sounders.”

“Down in LA, you’re a massive, massive underdog, you beat historically the best team to ever play in MLS, you come home, and then … it all fell perfectly,” he told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson, noting how perfect it was for the final to be played in Seattle after Toronto beat Atlanta United FC last week.

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“[The season] has been a roller coaster — it started the best team in soccer in the first six matches, but the season is 34 matches,” said Matt Johnson, the voice of the Sounders.

The announcer attributes the team’s success in no small part to head coach Brian Schmetzer, a local soccer fiend who graduated from Lake City’s Nathan Hale High School before becoming a professional player and coach.

“You know how we embrace one of ours — you just cheer for a guy like that,” Johnson said. “And then you find out how good of a man manager he is, it’s 34 games, and there are ebbs and flows, and how he kind of sticks to what he believes in, AKA [Seahawks head coach] Pete Carroll.”

Why has major league soccer gotten so popular in recent years, especially in the Pacific Northwest? Johnson thinks it may have something to do with the commonality of soccer as a sport that so many children in the region grow up playing.

“I grew up in Seattle — when you were 5 years old, every 5- and 6-year-old played soccer … this area is a hub, is one of the nation’s largest participatory places for kids to play soccer,” he said.

He pointed out how driving by Green Lake any evening of the year, you are likely to see people of all ages playing soccer on the field.

“Everybody I ever played soccer with is going to this match on Sunday … that is what makes it an even bigger event for this area,” he said.

Seattle Sounders fans will travel from across the region, including Eastern Washington and Oregon, to pack the stadium this weekend. It’s a way of coming together like no other, Johnson said.

“It’s that galvanization of this area, and that’s what makes it fun … this is such an opportunity to put us on the national map,” he said.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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