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Ormond Beach Observer Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 5 years ago

Smoke bombs and passion: Here comes America's new soccer

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For three hours, it felt like I was in a different country. That's what happens when you're surrounded by passionate soccer fans. 

BY ANDREW O'BRIEN | SPORTS EDITOR

Many say silence is deafening. But what about the roar of more than 67,000 people chanting through the streets?

It's an army of men, women and children, all decked out in green. At the frontline, soldiers push forward with a barricade. Bandannas covering their faces, only they know who they are. Green- and blue-colored smoke bombs are set off, diffusing the rave, making it seem even more like a war zone than it already does.

All this for soccer? In the U.S.?

That might not be the scene in every soccer city in America, but in downtown Seattle, it is when the Sounders F.C. are playing. And it's especially the case when rival Portland Timbers come to town.

The two squared off Aug. 25, in what has become one of the most intense rivalries in American sports — and the largest rivalry in Major League Soccer. Although the two teams are fairly new, the dedication among their fan bases represents a glimmer of hope for a sport that has seen much darker days here.

After the March to the Match, A crowd of more than 67,000 packed into Century Link Field. Supporters of both teams held scarves above their heads, chanted at the top of their lungs and drank beer. This was soccer, not football, and if you had no concept of geography, you probably wouldn’t know you were in America.

Seattle won the match, 1-0, keeping their playoff chances alive and the Sounders faithful content for another night. Flagler County's own Eddie Johnson netted the game-winning goal when he used his noggin to flick the ball past Portland keeper Donovan Rickets off a set piece in the 60th minute, sending Seattle fans into a frenzy.

It wasn't long ago that MLS lost its two Florida-based teams — a state considered by many as a soccer hotbed — and flirted with the possibility of going out of existence.

Now, 19 teams compete in two conferences. Five more teams have been promised by 2020. And soccer in the U.S. is becoming relevant, not irrelevant.

Soccer might never be considered one of the Big Four sports here in the U.S. But supporters of the game are rallying together to make it relevant. And whether they are supporters for the Sounders, the New York Red Bulls — or any team in between — they are coming together as an army of one. And they are marching. Marching together. Much like the army marching through Seattle’s streets.

Chants and all.

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