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Criticism, negativity may leave Seattle with few rewards for their hosting efforts

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SEATTLE – Last word on Monday had 36,000 tickets sold for tonight’s match. Some were saying 38,000. That’s out of 42,000 tickets available at CenturyLink. Or is it 45,000? Amid all the discussion, dissention, jabs and pointed fingers, real numbers have been difficult to nail down.

As much as Tuesday’s qualifier has become about the horrible pitch U.S. Soccer’s imposed on the venue, Seattle’s long-awaited World Cup Qualifier is serving as the platform for a great attendance debate. On one side is an advocate purporting a crowd that will rank among the largest in U.S. Soccer’s qualifying history. On the other is a prosecutor who’s reading a list of broken promises.

Those broken promises are figurative, of course. But it is fair to say the Seattle fan community talked a big game in the three years that led to this moment. Shortly after Sounders FC began setting Major League Soccer attendance records, we heard about the potential advantages of the U.S. playing at “the Clink.” They were endless, and in fairness, they weren’t only coming from Seattle. That would be a real home field advantage, the missive went, the implied assumption being massive crowds would come.

But on Tuesday, they won’t, a result with a myriad of factors contributing to what even some Sounders fans confess will be a disappointing turnout. The match is mid-week, a 6:30 kickoff (as opposed to a later, more manageable time). Season ticket holders weren’t given a chance to buy their seats, the prices are much higher than normal Sounders games, and casual fans who might have otherwise come may have chosen to attend the cheaper rivalry match on Saturday. All that, and there’s the perception U.S. Soccer was late giving Seattle a qualifier, creating a sense bitterness among a small but hardcore faction of the fanbase.

Make no mistake about three things, though:

  • First, except for the bitterness angle, none of these issues are unique to Seattle. Ticket prices for qualifiers are always higher, some season ticket holders don’t get preference, and U.S. national team matches often fall within the context of the local home schedules. These aren’t good explanations for failing to deliver on the implied crowd.
  • But if this does reflect a divide between the Sounders brand and being a fan of soccer at large, there’s nothing wrong with that. Sounder fans need not defend their preferences. Nobody is obligated to choose country over club, particularly when country took so long to show up. Soccer in the U.S. need not revolve around the national team any longer.
  • Finally, the crowd is still going to be huge. With a small, late surge in sales, it will be one of the top ten most-attended home games in U.S. qualifying history. Sure, Seattle could do better, but in an absolute sense, it’s still a huge number, potentially delivering the atmosphere U.S. Soccer sought.

The difficulty for Seattle soccer: They’re not being judged in absolute terms. They’re being judged against a standard of their own creation, and rightfully so. When the whole premise behind your qualifying bid is the ability to produce as-advertised crowds, you deserve to be judged against your talk. So if Seattle can’t produce near-42,000 for Tuesday’s match, it should be noted: They didn’t walk the walk.

It also deserves to be noted that the soccer community’s own standards may have been a bit unfair. Yes, people could have ultimately just bought tickets. They could have fought through all the mitigating circumstances and just showed up, just as people from all over the country did in travelling to Seattle. How do you really tell somebody flying in from New York that a $50-plus ticket kept you from going to a game in your hometown?

But that doesn’t mean real people didn’t have real life circumstances that kept them from the game. If you get off of work at 6:00 p.m., the 6:30 p.m. start time matters. If you bought season tickets for four and now have to fork over in excess of $200 to take your group to the game, that’s significant. Perhaps the Seattle community didn’t take these things into account when making their promises, but in the face of these on-the-ground factors, it’s understandable their promises couldn’t be kept.

It would mistake, however, to judge Seattle’s game as a failure based on the numbers. Make conclusions about the field conditions, if you want to. Or question the logic about flying cross-continent in a short window. That’s fine. But don’t see 36,000 and think that’s anything but a positive. The fact that Seattle could do better shouldn’t be used as a reason to dismiss the people who’ll  show up.

And that may be the most disappointing part of this debate. Many people across the U.S.’s broader soccer community have taken this opportunity to throw Seattle’s under-performance in fans’ faces, often exaggerating the actual significance of those 4,000 empty seats. ‘You didn’t deliver’ is a valid critique in light of the last three years’ dialog, but sentiments like ‘this is a disappointment,’ ‘what was the point,’ or ‘not as strong as you thought you were’ are distortions. The picture’s slightly more complicated than that. Slightly more interesting, too.

In reality, the issue isn’t really the attendance. The more compelling point is about the standards against which we’re judging Seattle’s soccer community. For any other market in the country, Tuesday’s number would be trumpeted as an amazing success. In Seattle, if fails to meet expectations. Is there any greater compliment you could give Seattle soccer than noting  their numbers put them in a class by themselves?

It’s too bad many ardent followers of U.S. soccer won’t see it that way. It’s backlash, possibly envy, or maybe it’s just a natural counter-balance to the slew of pieces that have guffawed Seattle’s crowds. But this discussion has become so distorted, you can’t help but wonder what Seattle’s getting out of this qualifier. A large group of fans are going to be able to see a qualifier – the first one in Seattle in 36 years – but the legacy of this game will be criticism, petty jabs, and possibly an unfair depiction of Seattle’s soccer scene.

All of this was unforeseeable when Sounders FC made their late 2012 U-turn on qualifiers. As of last fall, Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer felt bringing in grass to host any match was no longer with it. It cost too much for too little benefit. Yet after getting feedback from fans during last fall’s vote authorizing his new term, Hanauer changed course. If the fans wanted a friendly, he’d fight for it.

After this week, however, you wonder if he regrets not following his friend Merritt Paulson, sticking with the Portland Timbers by insisting any games at his venue be played on the field’s regular surface. At least then, Seattle probably wouldn’t under this tilted microscope.

With high ticket prices and an organizational cost of a couple of hundred thousand dollars to lay down the much-maligned sod, will all this negativity be worth it? Seattle seemed to be doing fine without U.S. Soccer.

Premier League roundup: Wins for Chelsea, Liverpool; Draws for six others

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Diego Costa of Chelsea celebrates scoring his sides second goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KCOM Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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The European tournament week left us with just five Premier League clubs in action on Saturday, but we still saw some sensational goals and stunning saves.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

For the most part, we saw expected results aside from West Ham’s failure to capitalize against visiting Middlesbrough.

Here, recapped, is our Saturday in England’s top flight.

Swansea City 1-2 LiverpoolRECAP

James Milner converted his fourth penalty kick of the season to complete Liverpool’s road comeback over Swansea City, casting further doubt on Francesco Guidolin‘s time as Swans boss. Roberto Firmino equalized off a Philippe Coutinho free kick after Leroy Fer gave the hosts an early lead.

West Ham United 1-1 MiddlesbroughRECAP

West Ham will be happy to have “stopped the rot” and not lost a fifth-straight game, but it took some “pure magic” from Dimitri Payet to avoid another loss at the Olympic Stadium. Cristhian Stuani netted early to give Boro a road lead, but Payet dribbled through the 18 before cutting the ball across his body and past Victor Valdes.

Hull City 0-2 Chelsea — RECAP

The Blues ended their three-match winless skid in style, working very good possession and build-up before breaking through after the hour mark with Willian and then Diego Costa. Chelsea now starts a brutal five match run which includes Premier League matches against Leicester, Manchester United, Southampton, and Everton.

Sunderland 1-1 West Bromwich AlbionRECAP

Nacer Chadli has proven a good buy for the Baggies so far, as the ex-Spurs man scored again, but Patrick Van Aanholt continued his knack for big goals by pulling back a point for the woeful host Black Cats.

Watford 2-2 BournemouthRECAP

The Cherries had a pair of leads thanks to Callum Wilson and Josh King, and Jack Wilshere hit the post twice in a game the visitors could have and maybe should have claimed. But Troy Deeney and exciting sub Isaac Success nabbed goals for the Hornets as the two sides split the points.

VIDEO: Former players, journalists reflect on Wenger’s 20 years at Arsenal

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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is celebrating his 20th year in charge of the storied Premier League club, and the accomplishment bears discussing.

In an age of managerial turnover, the Frenchman has maintained a consistent hold of the Gunners, and is widely viewed as a wonderful company man.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

In the above video, several former Gunners join media members to discuss the genius that is Wenger.

Enjoy!

Conte revels in Chelsea intensity in controlling win at Hull City

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea reacts during the Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KCOM Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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The intensity from Chelsea’s players in their 2-0 victory at Hull City was a sight for Antonio Conte‘s sore eyes.

Actually, that might be understating it.

“I like it when the team plays in this way,” Conte said after the win. “I like it so much.”

[ MORE: Hull City 0-2 Chelsea ]

The Blues controlled the match at the KC Stadium long before Willian and Diego Costa hit bullets past a helpless David Marshall to seal Chelsea’s 11th, 12th, and 13th points of the young Premier League season.

Conte loved the industry from his club in breaking a three-match losing streak.

From the BBC:

“We are working very hard and I am sure we can improve a lot if we continue to work in this way. I am pleased for all the players because in these situations because we have a clean sheet. In previous games we conceded too many goals. To finish with a clean sheet is very important. We also scored two and the performance is good. We must follow this with work, work, work!”

“We can improve and we must improve a lot and continue to work. After these two defeats it’s not easy to work because two defeats for Chelsea are heavy defeats. But this was a good answer.”

Yeah… he’s pretty intense. Is anyone going to take his “work, work, work” soundbite and work it into a Rihanna remix?

The Blues will need to work, as the schedule starts a brutal run after the international break: home to Leicester City and Manchester United, away to West Ham in the EFL Cup, and then on the road to Saints and home for Everton.

Adrian, Bilic praise Messi-like equalizer from “pure magic” Payet

West Ham’s Dimitri Payet, left, and Middlesbrough’s Marten de Roon challenge for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham and Middlesbrough at The London Stadium  in London, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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To hear West Ham goalkeeper Adrian describe it, the Irons should start streaming their training sessions so we can see more magic from Dimitri Payet.

West Ham’s talisman rescued a point for his struggling club when he essentially worked six Middlesbrough players and delivered a terrific finish in a 1-1 draw at Olympic Stadium in London.

[ WATCH: Payet’s wondergoal ]

Adrian says they see that a lot.

“Payet is like that in training,” the goalkeeper said. “He scored like a Lionel Messi goal at Barcelona. It is a massive goal to us.”

[ MORE: West Ham 1-1 Middlesbrough ]

The goal truly was massive, as the Irons avoided losing five in-a-row. They are still in the relegation zone, but baby steps.

Here’s WHUFC head coach Slaven Bilic:

“It was an unbelievable goal, it was a pure magic. It was only a shame it wasn’t a winning goal. We needed that moment of class from our best player to lift the whole team up.”