Sounders crowds keep growing as 'Caps come to town

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SEATTLE — Michael Gspurning knew the local support for Sounders FC was good when he signed in December.

He didn’t know it was this good.

For the third time in a month, Seattle will boast a crowd of at least 50,000 for the game Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps.

The Sounders have sold 54,000 tickets, and the team recently packed CenturyLink Field for a July 18 exhibition against Chelsea FC (53,309) and an MLS showcase on Aug. 5 against the Los Angeles Galaxy (60,908).

Is the luster of the franchise wearing off in Year 4? Hardly.

“Every day we should be so thankful for the fans we have in Seattle,” Gspurning said.

Following Saturday, Sounders FC’s average attendance will exceed 42,500 for MLS games this season and remain on pace for another league record.

That figure would rank Seattle fourth in the top leagues in Italy and Spain, sixth in the English Premier League and 11th in Germany in the most recent seasons in Europe.

Seattle averaged 30,897 fans per MLS game in 2009, 36,173 in 2010 and 38,498 in 2011 — each establishing a league mark.

“You never take it for granted,” said coach Sigi Schmid. “Every time you walk out here you’re just amazed.”

The Sounders will hope to use that support and other success to attract a new jersey sponsorship deal in 2014.

Seattle’s five-year partnership with Xbox expires after next season and the team has hired CAA Sports, a high-profile entertainment and sports agency, to explore opportunities with other companies.

So what else is working in the Sounders favor in hopes of a lucrative sponsorship?

Well, the team has the league’s highest television ratings, which would rank in the top third of the NHL and top half of the NBA, according to CAA.

On-field success has included a 54-29-33 record, second best in MLS since 2009, and three consecutive playoff appearances, a first for an expansion team.

Seattle also has led the league in merchandise sales the past three seasons.

And, of course, there are the fans.

Schmid recently was reminded of “how unique and special what we have is” when his longtime friend, Wolfgang Suhnholz, attended the Galaxy game.

Suhnholz, who once played for German powerhouse Bayern Munich, called Schmid a few days later and said, “I still can’t get over the experience.”

“He did everything,” Schmid said of Suhnholz. “He did the march to the match. ... He was like a kid in a candy store.”

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