Seattle Sounders FC will meet its role model this afternoon, when Toronto FC visits Qwest Field for the first time.
While the Sounders organization has tried to go its own way on the pitch, it knew whose path it wanted to follow when it came to building and serving a fan base.
“If I could point to any one club in Major League Soccer, it was Toronto,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said Friday. “They had the most success, so we tried to emulate and steal and copy and plagiarize and do whatever we could to take what was working and try to make it even better.”
Mission accomplished. These are the Nos. 1 and 2 MLS clubs in home attendance, with Seattle holding the top spot by a margin of more than 10,000. Today will bring the Sounders’ 13th regular-season home game of their inaugural season, and they haven’t had an unsold ticket yet.
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The only other MLS team whose ticket demand annually exceeds ticket supply is Toronto, which is in its third season of regularly selling out 20,000-seat BMO Field.
“We felt that if (fans had) a platform that gave them something to love, and we didn’t get in the way too much, that they would embrace it and show up; and I think that’s what they’ve done,” said Paul Beirne, Toronto’s senior director of business operations.
“We use the word ‘authentic’ a lot,” he said. “We try to be all about the game and respectful of the game. And so we don’t have cheerleaders and we don’t have a mascot. We allow our fans to dictate what the atmosphere is like.”
The very name “Toronto FC” was a show of faith in the fans, Beirne said.
“It was about not trying to manufacture something that wasn’t there yet,” he said. “We figured that if we did this right, a nickname for this team would emerge over time, and we shouldn’t be so bold as to try and dictate what that name should be. And I thought they appreciated that.”
The Sounders took a different twist on the same philosophy, allowing their fans to vote on the team name. And there are no Sounders cheerleaders or mascots, either.
Hanauer said the Sounders also noted and copied Toronto’s use of scarves as a show of club loyalty – especially its decision to give scarves to season-ticket holders. Hanauer also said the Sounders wanted to match TFC in using online technology as a way to serve fans and bond with them.
Next, Toronto might copy Seattle, which increased the seating capacity at Qwest to try to accommodate fans the club was previously turning away.
That was easier for the Sounders, who simply opened additional sections of a 67,000-seat stadium they control along with the NFL Seahawks.
BMO Field in Toronto is owned by the city, and TFC – as a tenant – believes the owner should handle the upgrade.
Even at current capacity, Seattle averages 30,412 per home game and Toronto averages 20,308. The league average is 15,820 – and lower still if you factor out the two leaders.
But Beirne expressed optimism, and an understanding that some of those less-successful franchises paved the way for the new clubs in the league.
“Toronto and Seattle in some ways had a head start because we had a clean slate,” he said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people at the league and my peers at the other teams, and I do see a very businesslike approach ... to how they’re going to solve their problems. But it would be folly to think that that can happen overnight.”
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808
Sounders FC Gameday
TORONTO FC (8-8-6; 30 points) AT SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (8-6-9; 33)
Kickoff: 1 p.m., Qwest Field.
TV: Channel 5, CBC. Radio: 97.3-FM, 1210-AM (Spanish).
Head-to-head: Seattle won, 2-0, in Toronto on April 4.
Team leaders: For Toronto – G, 9 Dwayne De Rosario; A, 5 Amado Guevara; S, 62 De Rosario; SOG, 32 De Rosario. For Seattle – G, 10 Fredy Montero; A, 7 Nate Jaqua; S, 65 Montero; SOG, 23 Montero.
Coach Sigi Schmid scouting report: “They are a difficult opponent. That sounds like coach talk, but they have so many offensive weapons with De Rosario and Chad Barrett and Amado Guevara and Ali Gerba and (Pablo) Vitti. … Sometimes they are not as structured as some teams are in terms of their shape or their lineup. So, they make it a little difficult.”
Notes: Seattle is 6-2-4 at home, while Toronto is 2-5-3 on the road. … The Reds are off to the best start of their three seasons in the league. However, they are 1-2-2 in their last five league games. … TFC is led by interim coach Chris Cummings, who took over after John Carver resigned in April. … Dwayne De Rosario’s nine goals already are a club record. … Seattle is looking to clinch its sixth series win of the season. … Sounders midfielder Stephen King (hamstring) is doubtful. Otherwise, the full roster is available. … A yellow card today would make either Freddie Ljungberg or Tyrone Marshall ineligible for the Sounders’ next league game. … Marshall played 40 games with Toronto over the last two seasons before being acquired in a trade. … The game is sold out.
Next: 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, U.S. Open Cup final at D.C. United; RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.; FSC.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune