Game 1: Philadelphia Union at Seattle Sounders

Like a beautiful child,
growing up, free and wild
Full of hopes and full of fears,
full of laughter, full of tears
Full of dreams to last the years…

SEATTLE – Forty-one years ago, Perry Como took his thoughts on this city and turned them into music.

It's been at least a generation, if not two generations, since Como’s heyday. But the song lives anew, as of the anthems sung at Sounders games by the Emerald City Supporters.

As I wrote when the Union’s opening fixture was first announced, I came here last summer to watch the Sounders host Barcelona at Qwest Field. The fans in the Brougham and North Ends sent me back east with two of their signature chants resonating in my mind.

The first was the “Seattle… Sounders…” call-and-response chant. The second was their adaptation of Como’s former Top 40 hit. In its original form, “Seattle” was peppy and upbeat. Its current incarnation, though, is a haunting and forceful cry of this city’s aspiration to claim a major sports championship for the first time since 1979.

(The latter version's lyrics have also been updated a bit, to put it one way.)

And make no mistake about it, the Sounders count as major in this city. With the Mariners and Seahawks mired in mediocrity, and the Sonics long since departed for Oklahoma, the Sounders may well be Seattle’s best chance at a title in only the team’s second year as a Major League Soccer franchise.

Which is why the Emerald City has embraced the Sounders to a degree unrivaled by any other MLS market. Seattle averaged over 30,000 fans per game last season, turning a half-full NFL stadium into one of the league’s most festive and intimidating atmospheres. There will be a sellout crowd of 35,500 at Qwest Field tonight.

The Sounders have done nothing less than set a new standard for MLS fans. It is up to the league’s other 15 clubs to meet that standard – and as of this day, that includes the Philadelphia Union.

From what I've heard, around 60 Sons of Ben have made the trip across the country for tonight's game. That's quite the first impression to make. But we won’t know what the Zolos are truly capable of until April 10, when the Union play their first home game of the season - and their challenge will be made more daunting when the Union move to PPL Park.

I suspect that even the Sounders’ front office will tell you that every MLS club should have its own stadium, with a capacity that accurately reflects both the demand for American soccer and the supply of fans available to fill the seats.

Having said that, the math facing the Union could not be simpler. A crowd of 30,000 is more than 18,500, the capacity of PPL Park. So the Sons of Ben will have to make up in quality what they cannot in quantity.

I have long believed that soccer is an acquired taste, and it is not easy to do the acquiring by watching a match on television. Soccer is best consumed in person, so that one can take in the full breadth of the sport whose atmosphere is unrivalled by any other in the world’s pantheon.

If, however, ESPN’s cameras and announcers are able to do justice to the spectacle that will unfold at Qwest Field tonight, then all of you back in Philadelphia will get a taste of what is in store for us all this summer.

And you will understand why there was never any question in my mind that I absolutely had to be here to see it for myself once again.

Please join me at 9:30 p.m. Eastern Time for a live chat during the Union’s official debut as a Major League Soccer franchise. Before then, you’ll find audio of the team’s pregame press conference yesterday in the audio player below. I wasn't in town yet when the press conference took place, but the Union's media relations staff was kind enough to send me the file.

Philadelphia has spent 16 years on the outside of MLS looking in. While I haven’t lived here for all of them, I know that the wait has felt even longer than that for many of you.

Tonight, it finally ends.



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