Seattle can handle soccer hype

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SEATTLE — It wasn’t about the wow factor this time. During the past five years, as Seattle’s international soccer profile has risen, these big local events have been a purposeful showcase, with everyone determined to prove the city’s passion for the sport.

You had to leave inspired and overwhelmed. That was the mandatory impression. It was a rare thing for Seattle, to see the city so formal in this mission, to acknowledge it as the best dressed at its own party. The typical, casual Seattle received the greatest makeover ever. It was that important to show the world our soccer affinity through large crowds, exquisite game presentation and an inclusive spirit. Every match, especially the huge ones, had to feel like a celebration of this phenomenon.

So on Tuesday, in perhaps the most important soccer event Seattle has hosted since its emergence, it was striking that the city made a good impression without being over the top. We didn’t overdress for the occasion because, well, we don’t have to anymore.

It wasn’t an “Oh, look at how great Seattle is!” kind of night. Our soccer reputation is established now, and the World Cup qualifier between the United States men’s soccer team and Panama served as evidence. The match wasn’t about Seattle making an impression. It was about Seattle providing an attractive background for a good international competition. And the city played its role quite well.

CenturyLink Field was a good host. It was a good crowd (40,847), the seventh-largest ever for a World Cup qualifier on U.S. soil, full of the energy and impressive in its patriotism. And the U.S. offered a good product, winning 2-0 in an effort that was smooth and workmanlike.

Team USA took care of business. So did Seattle.

It was as simple as that. If there was an impression to make, it was steeped in what didn’t happen.

The U.S. didn’t stumble. Though not ideal, the recently-installed grass at CenturyLink Field didn’t influence the outcome of the game. It didn’t rain.

It was a beautiful, subtle night that ended with “U-S-A!” chants echoing throughout the stadium. Instead of wow, the reaction was just as useful.

More, please?

There shouldn’t be another 37-year wait for Seattle to host a World Cup qualifier. This city — heck, the entire Pacific Northwest — is an ideal fit for U.S. Soccer. The passion for the game was evident, as was the soccer IQ of the fans watching. You can find better playing surfaces elsewhere in the country, but it’s difficult to match the atmosphere. And it’s impossible to find another U.S. region of fans that will take the event as seriously as it should be taken.

This qualifier drew 30,000 more fans than the Mariners game next door at Safeco Field. Sure, the Mariners score as infrequently as a soccer team, but geez. The attendance discrepancy wouldn’t happen in any other MLB city, and while it’s easy to turn that into an indictment of the Mariners, it’s also an indicator of soccer’s importance in the Pacific Northwest.

We can appreciate the physical specimen that is forward Jozy Altidore, who scored the match’s first goal in the 36th minute after beautiful passes from Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson.

And we know how to treat the hometown star, Eddie Johnson, who scored in the 53rd minute and cupped his ear to the crowd. The applause was a moment bustling with local and national pride.

On this night, the good impression wasn’t made via a record-breaking crowd or great marketing. It was made because it was a normal night for Seattle, and it still felt extraordinary.

It’s not a surprise anymore when Seattle does a good job hosting. We don’t have to do too much. The game is our love, not the spectacle. The spectacle occurs because the game is so loved.

More, please?

Really now, more.

More World Cup qualifiers. More elite international events. More soccer for the city’s immense appetite.

By now, it should be apparent Seattle can handle it.

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