The real winner today will not come from Toronto or Seattle. The real winner, big picture, of this giant week and colossal championship is a one-time sporting afterthought called Major League Soccer.
The MLS Cup sold out in 20 minutes. One of the largest crowds to ever watch soccer in North America will be in attendance on Sunday at CenturyLink Field on what should be a cool, cloudy and possibly rainy afternoon. At a time when the National Football League is trying to figure out how to get people in the stands to stay in the stands and enhance their in-stadium experience, MLS is flourishing against all odds.
It’s flourishing at a time when Major League Baseball struggles with live attendance, struggles to maintain its television numbers, struggles to attract a younger audience.
Whatever it is MLS is doing under commissioner Don Garber, it is doing it right.
Seattle, the franchise, is something of a soccer outlier. This team has always drawn well, always been treated like a major league franchise in a city with many of those. For a long time, Seattle stood alone. It has led the MLS in attendance for eight straight years.
In the midst of all that, Toronto FC became important, with the backing of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. After years of confusion, Tim Leiweke rode to the rescue and began throwing money at superstars from other places. Before that, the stadium, the fans, the enthusiasm was there. The team wasn’t.
Then it all came together, the city, the team, the stadium, the right roster, the right management group. It started with Leiweke, who left after changing sports in Toronto forever. But it’s continued on with this soccer team that is back playing for a championship for the third time in four years.