They came, the 10th-largest crowd ever to watch a U.S. national team play in their home country. They cheered, especially when American Alexi Lalas tied the game with a spectacular, flying header in the final minutes.
But as much as the 43,651 who attended last night's U.S.-Russia match seemed to enjoy the international duel, it was national soccer officials and players who went away with excited eyes.
Hank Steinbrecher, executive director of the U.S. Soccer Federation, practically left Seattle begging for the city to pursue bringing a Major League Soccer team to the area in 1995.
"What we're saying is, get 10,000 season tickets committed," he said. "Then we'll come in and make it work."
The game lived up to every hope of U.S. soccer officials, drawing the size of crowd that confirmed for them that not all the old Seattle Sounders fans had moved away. Indeed, the potential audience for soccer as a specator sport only seemed to grow.
But Americans created enough action to satisfy even new fans like Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, who was in attendance. The Americans took 18 shots on goal in the 1-1 tie, ensuring that Russian goalie Zaour Khapov had ample chance to get acquainted with the artificial-turf carpet.
The Russians were much less of a presence, taking only three shots on goal. But they were efficient: Dmitri Radchenko, a young forward who plays professionally in Spain, opened the scoring with a goal shortly after intermission.
Radchenko kicked the ball over a leaping Tony Meola, the American goalie. The U.S. struck back with five minutes remaining when Lalas headed in a crossing kick from fellow defenseman Mike Lapper.
"It was an unbelievable ball," Lalas said. "I didn't even have to open my eyes it was so beautiful, as usual from Lapper."
Lalas, the most distinctive player on the field with his bushy red hair and long red goatee, shared his goal with the crowd. Leaping over a temporary railing surrounding the field and climbing up into the stands, he played the crowd for all it was worth.
The Americans played before a Palo Alto, Calif., crowd of 56,000 in December, but rarely do they come across crowds of 40,000 outside of California.
"I wish we could play in front of this crowd every week," Lalas said. "They're loud, they've got passion. Fans elsewhere could take a lesson from Seattle."
Steinbrecher said he hopes Seattle bids for a team in Major League Soccer, which plans to begin play in the spring of 1995 with 12 inaugural teams. The Sports and Events Council of Seattle-King County has expressed interest to the MLS in possibly making a bid by the May deadline, but will consider the issue in more detail this week when local soccer officials meet.
The nine cities that are hosting World Cup games this summer are expected to get first chance at joining the league, which plans to own and run each of the teams. But Steinbruecher said Seattle is a market the MLS is greatly interested in.
Seattle does not have a soccer-only facility of 20,000 to 30,000, which the MLS would prefer. But Steinbruecher said the MLS would not be against Seattle using Memorial Stadium as a temporary facility, until a permanent stadium could be built.
He also encouraged a group led by Alan Hinton, the former Seattle Sounders coach, to make application to the MLS in 1995. Hinton plans to start up the Sounders again this summer, in the American Professional Soccer League, a Division II enterprise. The MLS is Division I.
Alluding to the large crowd on hand last night, Steinbrecher said, "I don't know if this town will allow them to be Division II."
Chris Henderson of of Everett, a longtime U.S. national team member, received warm applause from the crowd during introductions of the starting lineup.
A midfielder, Henderson had several chances to score in the first half from his left flank, but couldn't convert. On one shot from about 50 feet out, he got a good look at the goal but barely pushed it to the right.