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Originally published Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Sounders, Toronto crowds cheer for supremacy

Sounders FC, the new standard-bearer for game-day atmosphere in Major League Soccer, plays at raucous BMO Field against Toronto FC on Saturday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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TORONTO — For the past two years, Toronto FC was the model franchise in Major League Soccer, not for wins but for putting people in the seats.

The club, which began MLS play in 2007, averaged more than 20,000 fans at home games in both its inaugural campaign and last season. It actually oversold the listed 20,000-seat capacity at its shiny soccer-specific stadium, BMO Field.

The Reds, as TFC is nicknamed, were a combined 15-30-15 in those two years, and yet the crowds came. Opposing players lauded and still praise the atmosphere at BMO, respecting the crowd noise and European feel to the scene. Supporters groups' passion is so fervent that hundreds of members travel to nearby away games, as was the case last week when Toronto FC played Columbus to a 1-1 tie.

Then along came Sounders FC to MLS, and a new standard for attendance and game-day atmosphere has been set. The comparisons will be drawn during Seattle's match against TFC at 1 p.m. today.

"Up until Seattle, it was definitely the premier soccer venue as far as MLS, hands down," Seattle defender James Riley said of BMO Field. "The fans are like right on you. It's more of a European population up there, so they know soccer. They have chants; they know how to heckle."

Riley, a four-year MLS veteran, has firsthand knowledge, having played at Toronto twice in his career. But the din in Toronto will just be background noise as far as he's concerned, and the buzz around the league is that Qwest Field is the new home of the loudest and most supportive fans in the league.

"It's noisier here because we have more fans," said Tyrone Marshall, a Sounders FC defender who played for the Reds in each of the past two seasons. "Comparing both atmospheres, I'd have to go with Seattle, definitely. Thirty-some-thousand fans screaming definitely trumps 20,000 fans screaming."

In short, don't expect Sounders FC players to be too overwhelmed by the Toronto atmosphere. They've experienced the same thing at Qwest Field, and several players who have been with other MLS teams know what to expect from the TFC fans.

"I'm sure they'll come out stronger because they know that Seattle is considered the jewel of the league fanwise and on the field," Riley said. "I couldn't even imagine what they're going to say, but it'll be funny."

Sounders FC defender Tyson Wahl characterized Toronto's atmosphere as "a smaller version of what we have here in Seattle."

While Seattle might have the loudest fans, the leaguewide perception is that Toronto FC has the rowdiest. Opinions vary as to how much supporters groups like the Red Patch Boys and the U-Sector are fueled by alcohol; still, Sounders FC technical director Chris Henderson has been to BMO Field as an assistant coach and said the atmosphere is "amazing."

"You're taking a corner kick, and streamers are coming," Henderson said. "It is an atmosphere where you're not going to be able to hear each other. The players have to prepare. When they hear 'O Canada,' the whole stadium is going to be screaming it. It brings chills to you when you're standing out there, saying, 'This is why we play the game.' "

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Notes

• Minority owner/TV personality Drew Carey is in Toronto and will attend today's game.

• Sounders FC practiced for an hour Friday at BMO Field amid standing water and steady rain, but the forecast calls for the rain to end before today's kickoff.

José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or jromero@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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