Sandy • Winding through the various streets of downtown Seattle, the swarm, with its shades of green, will scream and will chant in preparing for arrival outside of CenturyLink Field. Sometimes flares are lit, oftentimes jade smoke hovers over the crowd as the ever-growing famous "March to the Match" kicks off a soccer day in Seattle.
Visiting the Sounders is a unique experience in Major League Soccer, as has been chronicled by several outlets since the Sounders officially joined MLS in 2009 as the league’s 15th expansion club. As cliché as it goes, playing in Seattle is as close to getting the feel of European or South American soccer as it gets, simply off sheer magnitude alone.
Real Salt Lake at
Seattle Sounders FCSaturday, 2 p.m.
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RSL at CenturyLink Field
March 28, 2009 » Seattle 2, RSL 0
Nov. 22, 2009 » RSL 1, L.A. Galaxy 1 (RSL, 5-4 PKs)*
Sept. 9, 2010 » Seattle 0, RSL 0
Sept. 10, 2011 » RSL 2, Seattle 1
Nov. 2, 2011 » Seattle 2, RSL 0**
May 12, 2012 » RSL 1, Seattle 0
Oct. 17, 2012 » Seattle 0, RSL 0
Nov. 2, 2012 » Seattle 0, RSL 0***
Sept. 13, 2013 » Seattle 2, RSL 0
*MLS Cup in Seattle
** RSL advanced on 3-2 goal aggregate in Western Conference semifinals
*** Lost first leg of Western Conference semifinals
And the visiting Real Salt Lake players know that, with the crowds drawn to CenturyLink, it’s loud.
Small earthquakes have been generated — on more than one occasion — by Seahawks fans’ cheering inside the notoriouslyraucous stadium.
"You feel like a professional soccer player going there," said RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy. "Maybe some other places you don’t so much."
Through Seattle’s first seven home matches of the 2014 season, the club is averaging 40,211 attendees per outing. In the Sounders’ most recent home match, a 1-0 win over visiting San Jose, 49,746 were on hand to watch. Idiosyncrasies of match-day marches and songs and flares aside, the Emerald City is a place RSL players relish visiting.
Memories constructed inside CenturyLink throughout these last five seasons between the two Western Conference rivals have included reaching the pinnacle of MLS success and moments of brilliance.
RSL raised the MLS Cup title on the turf in downtown Seattle on Nov. 22, 2009, after beating the L.A. Galaxy in a dramatic penalty-kick shootout. Since then, the meetings at CenturyLink have often been riveting between the two sides, including back-to-back postseason meetings in 2011 and 2012. Defender Tony Beltran helped RSL squeeze by the Sounders in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals in 2011 when his phenomenal goal-line clearance proved to be the difference as his club advanced 3-2 on goal aggregate.
The exhaustion still rings loudly in his mind. Of the relentless defending, in front of a jam-packed stadium in the pouring rain. It was, as Beltran said, "a cool moment for an athlete."
"Things that stick out in my mind as far as Seattle … maybe that game overall, because that was probably the most tiring game of my professional career," Beltran continued. "Under the gun the entire game, normally we have so much possession and it’s the other team chasing."
Nat Borchers said Beltran’s reaction to the empty-net clearance has since carried the label of "the fish out of water."
"The difference between CenturyLink and going to play Dallas is obviously quite different," said Borchers. "I think the atmosphere, with the history we have there, it’s always significant to go there and play big games."
RSL has played nine total matches at Seattle since 2009 and is 2-3-4 on the turf. But players say the burgeoning crowd and atmosphere doesn’t intimidate them.
Beltran said the culture surrounding the club and how the city has embraced the Sounders makes visiting Seattle more exciting.
For midfielder Javier Morales, Seattle carries the kind of ambience that demands an enjoyable rivalry match.
"When you are a kid, you always dream to play in a stadium like that with 50,000 people or something like that," he said. "It’s more fun, but it doesn’t change much because we always go there and try for three points."
The next visit is in store for RSL on Saturday afternoon, as the two best teams in MLS at the moment go head to head for 90 minutes. Grabavoy said Seattle still holds a special meaning to those still with the club who celebrated winning the league almost five years ago. The test for this group, he added, is a timely one.
"This group likes to play in front of big crowds," Grabavoy said. "I think it’s good to go up there and play under difficult circumstances and atmosphere."
Sounders ’14 home attendance
Date Opponent Attendance
March 8 Sporting K.C. 39,240
March 15 Toronto FC 38,441
March 29 Columbus 38,469
April 26 Colorado 38,582
May 3 Philadelphia 38,516
May 7 FC Dallas 38,489
May 17 San Jose 49,746
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