Sounders could set record for biggest home crowd

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TUKWILA, Wash. — This weekend, Sounders FC will host a game with attendance greater than any in the English Premier League.

Not a friendly. Not a playoff game. A league game — and one that will rival the grand crowds throughout the soccer world.

Sounders FC announced Monday that more than 66,000 tickets have been sold for Sunday’s rivalry clash with Portland at CenturyLink Field. Only limited tickets remain, and the club’s first true sellout for an MLS game is expected.

Sure, the franchise has been known for record attendance since 2009. But this is unique, and Sunday’s crowd could end up being the biggest in Sounders history.

“It’s a great tribute to MLS and to the Northwest rivalries,” said coach Sigi Schmid. “It’s going to be an electric atmosphere.”

“It’s a special occasion, for sure,” added midfielder Brad Evans.

So how does 66,000 compare?

For starters, the crowd will have outdrawn five of 13 NFL games this past Sunday. It also exceeds 21 of the past 22 games in the Premier League (due in part to stadium capacity in England).

For the Sounders, it will be the biggest crowd for an MLS game (the previous high was 64,140 for Kasey Keller’s send-off game last October) and could rival the record for any game (67,052 for a friendly against Manchester United last summer).

For MLS, it will likely mark the second-largest crowd for a stand-alone game in league history. The Galaxy’s inaugural game at the Rose Bowl in 1996 drew 69,225. The second-highest attendance was 66,237 for one of David Beckham’s first games in 2007.

After Sunday’s game, Sounders FC’s average attendance for the season will surpass 43,000. The team’s season total for 15 games will be more than 655,000 fans.

Majority owner Joe Roth said the ultimate goal is to fill the stadium throughout the MLS season.

“I won’t be happy until all the advertisements are off (the CenturyLink Field upper deck),” Roth said.

Perhaps most important, Seattle’s huge crowds have translated to wins. The Sounders are 4-0-1 in MLS games in front of more than 40,000 fans, outscoring opponents 13-4. Those numbers improve to a perfect 3-0 record and 8-1 goal differential when the crowds are over 55,000.

“When the crowd’s that size, it does become intimidating for the opponent,” said Schmid. “I remember when we played with the Galaxy and won the MLS Cup, there were 64,000 in Gillette (Stadium) cheering on New England. As experienced a team as we were at that time, it was still a little bit daunting to go out and face and know that they were all for the opponent. So it’s going to be a great atmosphere for us, and I think that helps us.”

Added Evans: “Hopefully (we’ll) put on a good show for all the people.”

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