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Soccer Notes

Game is on sound footing in Seattle

By Frank Dell’Apa
October 18, 2011

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The Seattle Sounders got off to a spectacular start in their first MLS season in 2009, tapping into a receptive soccer culture and drawing consistent sellouts at a reduced-seating Qwest Field, home of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.

On Saturday, the Sounders opened the stadium, now called CenturyLink Field, to full capacity, and drew a crowd of 64,140 for their game against the San Jose Earthquakes. Only two MLS stand-alone, regular-season game attendances have been higher - the Los Angeles Galaxy’s inaugural game in 1996 (69,255) and a Galaxy visit to New York in ’07 (66,237), thanks to David Beckham.

The attraction in Seattle was the final regular-season match of goalkeeper Kasey Keller’s career. Keller is from the Seattle area and experienced success in Europe, but he does not command anywhere near the attention of a Beckham.

The significant crowds - the Sounders regularly have drawn more than 36,000 the past two seasons - in Seattle can be attributed to many factors, the top two probably stadium location/accessibility and a quality team (the Sounders are in second place in the MLS overall standings).

Also, the timing was right for launching the Sounders into the MLS in 2009. There might have been some crossover from disenchanted SuperSonics supporters after the NBA relocated the franchise. Also, the Sounders retained a positive image from their North American Soccer League days and the team had remained active, though at a minor league level, since the NASL’s demise in 1984.

All of the MLS’s Pacific Northwest teams have received enthusiastic receptions. One advantage they have is that the time difference limits competition from televised European matches.

For savvy soccer fans on the East Coast who have watched quality games early Saturday morning through the afternoon, by the evening, there is little incentive to attend an MLS game. In Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, though, few viewers would be expected to have arisen at 4:30 a.m., for example, for last Saturday’s Liverpool-Manchester United game. Most of the European action has concluded well before noon Pacific Time.

The key, though, is providing quality competition. MLS matches are not yet as attractive as the world’s top leagues. But the MLS has the potential to make its mark. On Saturday, only three crowds worldwide topped Seattle’s for its 2-1 win over San Jose - Barcelona-Racing Santander (80,000), Real Madrid-Real Betis (76,000), and Bayern Munich-Hertha Berlin (69,000).

Time to boot relegation?

Asian and US investors in English soccer clubs have been discussing the elimination of the promotion/relegation for the Premier League, according to Richard Bevan, chief executive of the League Managers Association.

“If we have four or five more new owners, that could happen,’’ Bevan said.

It’s not a new idea. Two years ago, a proposal by Bolton chairman Phil Gartside was rejected for limited promotion and relegation within a two-tiered Premier League.

“I’d be horrified to think that was someone’s long-term agenda,’’ Stoke City chairman Peter Coates said in an Associated Press interview. “Although it happens in America with franchises, our traditions are totally different . . . it would be an absolutely unthinkable thing to happen if we wanted to try and close that particular relegation door. It would be so bad for the game and would do it immense damage.

“You’d take away the thing that’s so important: the opportunity to go up and down, which creates a mass amount of interest. There’s as much interest in the relegation battle as the title battle.’’

Fight for their (TV) rights

Liverpool FC tied Manchester United, 1-1, before a capacity crowd of 45,065, including NBA star LeBron James, at Anfield. James is part of the Fenway Sports Group, which has purchased control of Liverpool.

Part of the reason for Fenway’s investment in Liverpool is the possibility of expanding revenues with a new stadium and by marketing the club globally. But the group is finding it difficult to gain municipal approval to expand Anfield or to build another stadium.

Another possible revenue-producer would be for Liverpool to sell its own television rights, according to managing director Ian Ayre. Premier League clubs collectively sell foreign TV rights, worth $2.2 billion in a contract expiring in 2013.

Ayre said the Premier League risks being outmaneuvered by European competition such as Barcelona and Real Madrid. But Deloitte’s Sports Business Group partner Dan Jones called Ayre’s proposal “a red herring, a non-runner,’’ in an interview with the insideworldfootball.com website.

“The more correct way is that Barcelona and Real Madrid move their model towards the English model than the other way round,’’ Jones said. “What’s more likely to happen is that the two of them will come under pressure to share their revenues more equitably with their competitors.’’

Television rights fees are continuing to increase. Italy’s Serie A will earn $3.3 billion through the 2014-15 season in recently negotiated deals. That could be a starting point for Premier League negotiations, so it is unlikely the majority of English clubs (14 of the 20 Premier League members would have to vote in favor of changing a regulation) would relinquish the chance to collectively bargain.

Their paths diverged

When the MLS season started, the Revolution and Galaxy were on even terms. That was the impression left by a 1-1 tie between the teams at The Home Depot Center on a rainy night in March.

Seven months later, the Galaxy have clinched the Supporters’ Shield title for the best record in the league and the Revolution are in last place.

But in that season opener, the Revolution seemed organized, and Marko Perovic provided a creative dynamic. The Revolution were close to closing a deal for striker Rajko Lekic, and things seemed promising.

However, in the 22d minute of that game, Perovic sustained a leg muscle strain. He would play only four games before undergoing knee surgery. And the Revolution never lived up to their promise in slumping to a 5-16-12 (27 points) record with a visit to Toronto FC remaining Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Galaxy set a league record with a 12-0-5 home mark and are 19-4-10 (67 points).

In that March game, the Galaxy paid for a poor clearance off a Perovic corner kick, Perovic then sending a cross for Shalrie Joseph to head in. The Galaxy apparently learned from that mistake, which was the type of sequence that has haunted the Revolution defense for most of the second half of the season.

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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