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MLS Cup final: How Seattle Sounders 'created the blueprint' for success in MLS


The Seattle Sounders host Toronto FC in the Major League Soccer championship match Sunday at CenturyLink Field. The Sounders have been to the playoffs every year of their 11-year existence in Major League Soccer. It's a recipe for success that has been in place since day one, especially when it comes to record fan attendance.

Matt Pentz covers the Sounders for The Athletic and wrote a book about the team. He talked about the Sounders' winning ways with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick.

“They really did create the blueprint that every successful team since has followed,” Pentz said. “I think it’s fair to say that the Sounders sort of set the model.”

It all started at the George and Dragon Pub in Fremont, where a bunch of soccer fans gathered in 2007 (check) for the announcement that MLS was expanding to Seattle.

Matt Pentz

“From that first moment, they were pretty focused on the type of fan that they wanted and sort of taping into the soccer culture that was already here,” Pentz added.

At the time, the approach was quite revolutionary, one that was aided by marketing muscle borrowed from the Seattle Seahawks.

Sounders soccer was intentionally turned into a big spectacle: the march to the match, the big flags and the fire before the game. “And all of that was new and I think it's part of what excited people and got them coming back,” Pentz said. “That was definitely a big part of their success.”

So, can the overwhelming success continue?

"I'm going to hedge and say I don't know,” Pentz said. "If you look at their recent history, everything suggests that they're going to find a way to keep this going. But the economics of the league are changing.”

He noted the Sounders have been surpassed as a leading financial powerhouse by teams with deep pockets, such as Atlanta and LA FC.

"It did seem like this season was them having to own up to the changing landscape. And then they got hot again and here we are,” Pentz said. “But they are going to have to still adjust and find their place in a changing landscape."

Matt Pentz is the author of "The Sound and the Glory: How the Seattle Sounders Showed Major League Soccer How to Win Over America."

Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
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