The guests will have to share the spotlight with their host today at Qwest Field.
Yes, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Real Salt Lake will play for Major League Soccer’s most prestigious prize: the MLS Cup.
But at 5:30 p.m., the eyes of an ESPN audience, including more than 120 countries, also will be on Seattle, which will host its final game of a season that the league commissioner said has redefined what the sport can mean in this country.
“The Seattle experience was unprecedented in professional sports, from the ownership group to all of the fans who helped paint this town green, to players who really believed in this club,” Don Garber said Saturday. “... I believe that it is not just a great moment for soccer, I think it is a great moment for professional sports. Our country celebrated what soccer could be here in Seattle, and now we in the league can take that and show the world that this sport really can matter.”
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Ticket sales topped 40,000 Saturday, assuring this game will be played before the largest crowd to watch a meaningful match at Qwest Field. During the regular season, Sounders FC set an MLS attendance record by averaging 30,897 per home game.
“I think this franchise has been unbelievable,” Galaxy star and league MVP Landon Donovan said. “... (These fans) are 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.”
Neither finalist won in its regular season visit to Qwest Field. Salt Lake lost, 2-0, in its season opener March 29, while the Galaxy played to a 1-1 draw May 10.
Galaxy star David Beckham wasn’t at that game, but he said he spoke to former Los Angeles teammate and current Sounder Peter Vagenas and was told to expect a passion unlike anywhere else in MLS.
“He said people are just walking around the city with the shirt on, with the jerseys on, which is incredible,” Beckham said. “You can see and you can feel the effect that this Seattle team has had on the city. So, it’s a great place to have the final. Hopefully, the atmosphere (today) will be as good.”
As with a typical Sounders game, there will be a march to the match, starting at 3:45 p.m. at Occidental Park. Garber and representatives of Sounders ownership, management and players will accompany fans to the stadium.
Once they arrive, they can pass time at the MLS Soccer Celebration, running from 1-5 p.m. in the north parking lot. There will be soccer-related activities, fans can pose for pictures with the MLS Cup trophy, and Third Eye Blind will perform a free concert starting at 4:15 p.m.
A remaining mystery is who the fans will cheer for once inside the stadium. Some supporters have traveled from Southern California and Utah to support their sides, but the bulk of tickets were distributed as part of the Sounders’ season-ticket package.
Both teams are members of the Western Conference, and therefore natural Sounders rivals. The Galaxy (12-6-12) finished one point ahead of Seattle in the regular season standings, while Real Salt Lake (11-12-7) finished seven points behind.
That sent two-time MLS champion Los Angeles into the playoffs as the top seed in the West, and the Galaxy advanced past Chivas USA and Houston – the club that ousted the Sounders.
As the lowest-qualifying entry, RSL was shifted into the Eastern bracket, where it advanced by eliminating defending champion Columbus and then won in Chicago on penalty kicks.
On the eve of playing for their first major trophy, RSL players said they hope they will be adopted for one night by Puget Sound soccer fans.
“Hopefully all the Sounders’ fans will get on our side for the game,” midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. “We were actually hoping that L.A. would have beaten the Seattle, so maybe they would have got on our side. But it will be a good atmosphere.We’re hoping it will be a packed house. Everybody wants to play in front of that.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
MLS CUP CAPSULE
REAL SALT LAKE (11-12-7) VS. L.A. GALAXY (12-6-12)
Kickoff: 5:30 p.m., Qwest Field.
TV: ESPN. Radio: 97.3-FM.
Head-to-head: This season, the teams played to a 2-2 draw at Salt Lake on May 6, then RSL won, 2-0, on June 13 in Carson, Calif. The all-time series is even, 5-5-5. RSL has a 24-23 advantage in total goals.
Team leaders: Los Angeles – G 12, Landon Donovan; A 6, Donovan/Mike Magee; S 56, Donovan; SOG 29, Donovan. Salt Lake – G 12, Robbie Findley; A 7, Clint Mathis; SH 64, Yura Movsisyan; SOG 29, Movsisyan.
Notes: This is Los Angeles’ sixth MLS Cup appearance – most of any team. Salt Lake is appearing for the first time. The Galaxy won MLS Cup in 2002 under current Sounders coach Sigi Schmid and again in 2005. ... RSL is the second team created through expansion to make MLS Cup, joining Chicago which did it in its inaugural 1998 season. RSL is the second consecutive No. 8 seed to reach the final (joining the New York Red Bulls, who lost to Columbus last season.) ... The Western Conference has won six of the past eight MLS Cups; and of course, a Western team is certain to win this one. ... Kevin Scott of Chino, Calif., will referee his third MLS Cup. ... MLS announced Saturday that ticket sales topped the 40,000 mark, assuring the largest crowd for a competitive soccer match at Qwest Field. Tickets are available. ... The Washington Department of Transportation reminds fans that there could be traffic delays related to construction on South Royal Brougham Way between the Qwest parking garage and Safeco Field. ... MLS’ Soccer Celebration will be held from 1:30-5 p.m. Qwest Field’s north parking lot. ... Stadium gates open at 3:30 p.m.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune