Last year, the Seattle Sounders broke the New York Cosmos' record for single-season attendance in American pro soccer. This season, they may be closing in on a Cosmos attendance mark that might have even more significance.
The Cosmos left a lot of memories behind when they folded in 1985. In particular, there were the superstars, the five NASL titles and the attendance figures, which included crowds of up to 77,691. The Cosmos' attendance records included one that has long seemed impossibly far out of reach. On June 5, 1977, they drew their first crowd of more than 30,000, pulling in 31,208 for an NASL game at Giants Stadium against the Toronto Metros-Croatia. The next time that they drew fewer than 30,000 for an NASL home game wasn't until 1981. They had 30,000-plus crowds for 70 consecutive NASL home games, an amazing streak.
The single-season record that the Sounders set last year contains a few asterisks. The Cosmos' record of 717,542 in 1978, which the Sounders beat with 733,441 in 2012, includes only regular-season games, but for the Cosmos in their heyday, the real attendance bonanza was the playoffs. In addition to those 717,542 at 15 regular-season games in 1978, the Cosmos drew another 248,167 to their four home playoff games that season. In addition to their 733,441 at 17 regular-season games last season, the Sounders drew another 79,516 for their two home playoff games in 2012. So, an argument could be made that the Cosmos are still the leader in single-season attendance, although the Sounders may have something to say about that in the future.
The record for consecutive 30,000-plus crowds is a slightly more level playing field. Both the Cosmos' 70-game streak and a current streak by the Sounders include all league home games, both regular-season and playoff (but not preseason). Neither streak includes friendlies. So here are the details of the Sounders' streak and their attempt to overtake the Cosmos' streak:
When these Sounders began play at the start of the 2009 MLS season, attendance at what was then called Qwest Field was limited to 29,000. It wasn't until the ninth Sounders home game of the season, against Colorado on June 28, 2009, that the limit was raised above 30,000. By the end of the 2009 season, the Sounders had had eight consecutive crowds over 30,000. They since have added 16 more in a row in 2010, 18 more in a row in 2011 and 19 more in a row in 2012, so their streak currently stands at 61 games. If they continue drawing 30,000-plus crowds at every game in 2013, their streak will reach 70 at a July 20 game against Colorado and then 71 at a July 28 game against Chivas.
The Cosmos were a glittering event in American soccer (some might say too glittering, with not enough substance). The idea of their attendance records being broken just three decades later sounds astonishing, but it seems to be happening. The 30,000-plus streak record may fall this year. And with the Sounders opening up Century Link Field to its full capacity of 67,000 more and more frequently, whatever question there is about the single-season record may soon become a moot point. It is true that without a larger stadium, the Sounders aren't going to top the Cosmos' single-game best of 77,691, but that mark has lost some of its luster in recent years anyway. At the time it was set in 1977, it was the largest soccer crowd ever in the United States. Now, it is barely hanging onto a place in the top 50.