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Soccer, the world's game, is good for us

With teams in Seattle, Vancouver, and perhaps Portland, we'll be global players

Last Thursday was big for Seattle sports fans, proclaimed the Seattle Times' Steve Kelley, but in reality it was only one day in a week that promises to bring a new level of excitement to inter-state (and province) rivalry in the region.

The day before Kelley's column, Vancouver was awarded the 17th franchise in the Major League Soccer (MLS) world, setting up a lovely cross-border rivalry with the Seattle Sounders, who were off to a rousing opening-day 3-0 win. (For the American footballers among you, that's like a 24-0 blowout.)

If Seattle-Vancouver doesn't do it for you, try an Amtrak series including Portland. Friday morning, MLS announced that the Portland Timbers will own the 18th franchise, pending the ability of Portlanders to close a $15 million gap in financing. Bet that it will get done somehow; Portland has a rich history with professional soccer, and only one other major-league franchise, the Trailblazers.

It may not be Manchester-Liverpool, Celtics-Rangers or France-Germany, but it should be a very entertaining rivalry for American soccer.

Traditionalists may scoff at soccer because it doesn't have high scores and the ball is moved with feet, body and head, but soccer is the world's sport, with numbers of participants and spectators dwarfing the totals of American football and its several other iterations, as well as rugby. Soccer won't make the U.S. into France, as conservatives seem to fear — but it will put the Pacific Northwest in synch with the national sport of most of Europe, Latin America, Africa and even parts of Asia.

Immigrants from those parts of the world figure to be a big part of the audience for Northwest soccer, and the sport will gain additional luster at high schools and colleges in the region, as well as club teams for youth. Teams play for a fraction of the cost of football teams — fewer coaches, less-expensive uniforms and equipment.

Now all that's needed is to find the guy who dressed up in logger's clothing and climbed a power pole to fire up his chainsaw at Timbers' games in the 1970s. Well, maybe he's a little long in the tooth 30 years later, but perhaps he has a son.

Floyd J. McKay, professor of journalism emeritus at Western Washington University, was a print and broadcast journalist in Oregon for three decades. Recipient of a DuPont-Columbia Broadcast Award for documentaries, and a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, he is also a historian and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. He resides in Bellingham and can be reached at floydmckay@comcast.net.


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