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Originally published Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 8:15 PM

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Sounders' growing crowds highlight increased MLS attendance

Can soccer make it in this country? Sounders coach Sigi Schmid thinks Sunday's 6 p.m. home game vs. rival Portland in front of 66,000 fans answers that question

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Portland @ Sounders FC, 6 p.m., ESPN

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That CenturyLink Field will be packed for a big game on a fall Sunday isn't a huge surprise.

That a crowd of more than 66,000 will be in attendance for MLS — not the NFL — might be.

But such is the result of Sounders FC's strong support, the attractiveness of a fierce rivalry with the Portland Timbers, and the direction of a growing league heading into a nationally televised 6 p.m. spectacle.

"People who say, 'Hey, is soccer going to make it in this country?', you've got to come to the game on Sunday and you'll see if soccer can make it in this country," said coach Sigi Schmid. "I think it's going to be a great advertisement."

In some regard, Sunday's game is already a success. The expected crowd, which includes a chunk of traveling Timbers fans, has garnered international attention and continued an upward trend in MLS.

This will mark the Sounders' fourth crowd over 55,000 in the past 12 months. Around the league, expansion team Montreal has had two games this season with such turnouts, and nine teams have seen significant growth in attendance from last year.

After this weekend, five of the top 12 MLS crowds in league history will have come this season.

"I personally have never been as bullish as I am today in the continued growth in the league," said Adrian Hanauer, Seattle's general manager and part owner. "I think there are many good days ahead for this franchise and a lot of other franchises."

Consider Sunday, which coincides with the start of a fan vote to retain or remove Hanauer as GM, of those days. Excitement in the stands should carry over onto the field.

"I think the biggest (motivation) for players is to step on the field and look at the crowd, at how they are supporting us," said midfielder Mauro Rosales, "and the best way to pay it back is to play hard."

Hanauer said the Sounders, even big-thinking majority owner Joe Roth, never envisioned this kind of support. Now Hanauer hopes that in the future big crowds won't be a story but an expectation.

The world is taking notice, too, as a handful of Colombian journalists and media personalities — including popular sports anchor/reporter Andrea Guerrero, who has almost 200,000 Twitter followers — have made the trip to Seattle for the game.

So what does Fredy Montero, the Sounders' most famous Colombian, think they'll see at CenturyLink Field on Sunday?

"They are going to be surprised," Montero said. "They are going to be excited to go back to Colombia and say to everyone over there, 'It is time to change your mind about MLS.' "

NOTES

• The Sounders declined to comment on a potential call-up for forward Eddie Johnson to the U.S. national team, but Schmid said hypothetically that it wouldn't rule out a player's involvement in a crucial Oct. 17 home game against Real Salt Lake. U.S. Soccer is expected to announce its roster on Monday for World Cup qualifiers against Antigua and Barbuda (Oct. 12) and Guatemala (Oct. 16).

• Midfielder Mario Martinez left Seattle to join the Honduran national team for upcoming World Cup qualifiers and will not be available Sunday.

• Fan voting to retain or remove Hanauer begins at noon Sunday online on SoundersFCvote.com. Season-ticket holders and Alliance members are eligible to vote, and ballots can also be cast at the stadium in four locations: the field plaza just north of the pro shop, the south main concourse near section 118, the Root Sports lounge lobby on the club level, and the NE Club lounge.

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or jmayers@seattletimes.com

Cascadia Cup standings
Three points for a win, one point for a draw.
Team Pts W-L-D
Portland 8 2-0-2
Sounders 6 1-1-3
Vancouver 3 0-2-3

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