Last week, we reported that MLS had balked at the idea of offering the name Sounders as one of the choices in the online poll to pick the name of Seattle’s new MLS team. Fan pressure, though, seems to have contributed to a decision to allow a write-in choice, and a movement has started for Sounders as the choice.
A conversation with a Seattle soccer fan should be familiar to supporters worldwide. There is much use of terms like “tradition” and “history,” and most invoke the same vivid memories, dating back four decades in some cases, of ludicrous attachment and childhoods immersed in ticket stubs and team memorabilia. The sense of community, even between generations, is palpable, and it is all tied together with the Seattle Sounders name.
Even with the vagaries of American pro soccer, which have seen the Sounders history bounce between leagues, the continuity is clear in the minds of the fans. Younger First Division (USL-1) Sounders supporters like Clayton Hanson, who know the NASL only through websites and bar stories, still see those teams as their own.
According to him, “because of the name, the colors and the bits of institutional continuity, I could put myself in the shoes of some other anonymous schmo watching the NASL Sounders advance to the Soccer Bowl to face Pele and the Cosmos.”
This sense of history isn’t unique in American sports, but in American soccer it is nearly nonexistent and something to be prized on that basis alone. Sounders, as MLS would have it, is a name and (more importantly) brand with a fixed context.
But the clear message from Seattle fans is that, in the words of David Falk, operator of the Goal Seattle website, Sounders “is the only name that represents soccer in Seattle.” The community, history, and civic pride go along with the name in all of its uses, from the NASL days forward. In the words of lifelong Seattle soccer fan Jared Hooper, “If you take away our name, you are asking fans to archive decades of memories.”
Many fans also see the pro-Sounders effort as a campaign on behalf of fans across the league as well as in MLS. Sons of Ben president Bryan James has urged his members to vote for the name in solidarity, saying:
I think that the recent wave of expansion has actually forged supporter groups together. We will hate each other during the season, but at the end of the day, we are all American soccer fans who want what is best for the sport. Sounders is one of the few names to survive the transition from NASL to minor league soccer and continues to go strong. For American soccer fans, the name should represent an opportunity to continue a tradition in a nation that so sorely lacks it.
And Sean, one of the leaders of Seattle’s Emerald City Supporters, emphasized the importance of the fight for future markets entering the league:
This is not just about MLS in Seattle, this is about the entire MLS and US soccer. What happens when Montreal, Portland, and/or Vancouver come into the league? Should they have to abandon their history because MLS/Garber do not want to recognize soccer tradition before 1996? I understand building a league for the future. That said, you can also build for that future through solid connections to the past.
Such are the reasons that Seattle fans have campaigned for MLS to bring the Sounders name along with the USL team’s owners and players. Particularly on fan sites like BigSoccer, Seattle fans have been urging locals and soccer fans across the country to cast write-in votes for Seattle Sounders. Sixteen hours into the voting, which started on Thursday morning, the poll had registered 6,300 votes from across the country.
There is no indication as to which name has the upper hand, though certainly the campaign has been noticed. During last night’s MLS First Kick broadcast, commissioner Don Garber acknowledged the support that Sounders had recieved and mentioned the write-in option on the team’s vote, almost a first among official statements on the poll.
Says David Falk of the vote: “This is a write-in vote for “Seattle Sounders,” but it would also send a loud message to Don Garber and MLS owners that fans matter, and that our country has a tradition in this sport before MLS that they need not avoid or ignore.” He is right, and Sounders is the correct choice for the city and the league.