The league's first game was an eye opener, but in a good way. The Seattle Sounders, an MLS expansion team, managed to sell 32,000 tickets for their first home game against last year's MLS Cup finalists, Red Bull New York. They also managed to make the Red Bulls look like the expansion team, by crushing them for an emphatic 3-0 win, and generally giving the fans in Seattle something to cheer about, again, and again. Freddy Montero, the Sounders' 21 year old Colombian striker was the star of the show against New York. He scored the club's first ever MLS goal after pleading with both hands for the ball, nearly 20 yards from the Red Bull goal. Sebastien Le Toux's pass found him still unmarked at the edge of the 18 yard box. With two deft touches Montero killed the pass with his right foot, squared his body, and struck a hard rolling drive across the face of goal, past the Red Bull's young keeper Danny Cepero, into the bottom left corner of the net.
For the second goal Montero played the role of provider, slipping the ball between two Red Bull defenders, to the feet of on rushing teammate Brad Evans. Evans, streaking into the 18 yard box, received the ball with his back to goal, but swiveled hard and struck an angled left footed shot that went in between the legs of Cepero, and into the net. Seattle scored a third when Montero stole the ball from Red Bull defender Mike Petke, and charged toward a waiting Cepero in the Red Bull goal. With Petke chasing behind him, Montero executed a fake that brought Cepero to his knees before slotting the ball calmly over him into the top right corner. Seattle's veteran goalkeeper Kasey Keller, snuffed out a few rasping shots, and drives from New York in the last quarter of the game that might have embarrassed a less experienced keeper (see Cepero above). Keller's ability to keep the shut out intact, even at the age of 39, combined with Montero's offensive outburst, sealed the fate of the visiting Red Bulls long before the final whistle blew, and the Sounder's fans knew it. A sea of scarf shaking, key lime green jersey wearing, singing, screaming, dancing fans gave Montero a standing ovation when Seattle Coach Sigi Schmid subbed the pint sized 21 year old in the 90th minute. Schmid, you might recall, won last year's MLS Cup with the Columbus Crew, before taking his current position with the expansion Sounders. The win gives Schmid, and his new bosses up in Seattle even more to smile about than their enormous preseason ticket sales tallies.
If you don't already know, the guy who might be considered the secret mastermind of the Sounder's success up in Seattle (outside of Schmid and Montero) is none other than comedian Drew Carey. Self professed Cleveland sports fan Carey, is also, as it turns out, an enormous soccer fan. On a tour of the stadium at the home of European Soccer giants FC Barcelona, Carey learned that Barcelona's fans can actually participate in their club's decision making process by electing or ousting the team's President. Shocked and excited, Carey brought the idea of the active fan back to the U.S. and pitched it to his Hollywood producer buddy Joe Roth as a model for an MLS team, and the rest as they say is history. The two agreed to purchase the Sounders, with Roth taking on the role of Majority Owner, and Carey holding a minority stake. The pair then stuck to the Barcelona fan-voting model, and went to Seattle's sports starved fans with an offer they couldn't refuse. With each season ticket purchased, Sounders fans could earn the right to vote for their team's General Manager. The offer for voting rights has even been extended to any Sounders fan willing to pony up $125 to become a member of the team's official fan club. So far, so good for Sounders General Manager Adrian Hanauer and Seattle fans, but when the going gets tough, Carey's model might just ring in some changes that catch the eyes and ears of not just soccer fans, but every type of American sports fan (more on that later though). What's exciting at the moment is that the Seattle fans really seem to want to back the idea, and more than just a little. You might remember that Seattle sports fans got stuck on the wrong end of a deal that sent their beloved Seattle SuperSonics packing to become the NBA's most recent expansion franchise, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Sounders might just be the unlikely winners in the whole mess, filling an emotional and sporting void left by the Sonics' departure. The Sounders have only played one game, and already they've sold more season tickets than any other single MLS club did all of last year. The Sounders current tally of 20,000 season tickets sold may actually still rise as the season wears on. Already, Sounders officials have begun to consider opening up some of their closed off seats to increase home game capacity to 27,000. You know, so maybe some of the other folks can come see a game too.
Most interesting to soccer fans and non soccer fans alike though, isn't the exciting ticket sales, even in the absence of Mr. Beckham, but that Carey's model might eventually give more than just one group of fans a new found voice. All is very well indeed in Seattle for now, and for MLS fans at large, after the first game of the season, thanks to Drew Carey and co. But if things turn sour at some point up in Seattle, it's nice to think that Sounders fans might not only have a say in the direction their club moves in, but actually grab the attention of the rest of America's sports fans for taking control of their team. I can only guess that every American sports fan would like to have a say in their favorite team's operations. And I can't think of any reason why they shouldn't be able to. Can you?