Behind The Scenes

ESPN The Mag: World Football Issue eyes Seattle’s love of its Sounders

ESPN The Magazine debuts its “World Football” issue on newsstands today.

To coincide with the launch of another “first” for The Mag, Front Row caught up with staff writer Doug McIntyre to discuss his three stories within the issue.

Wayne Rooney is on the cover of the World Football issue of The Mag.

His “Reigning in Seattle” (page 92) feature sheds some light on how pro soccer can and does thrive stateside. If you thought the hottest ticket in the Emerald City was the Mariners or Seahawks, you would be mistaken.

The Mag received unrestricted access to a Seattle Sounders match — to shoot and report on the side that is America’s closest thing to a European soccer club.

You can get a feel for the fan fervor from the photos above. As Sounders play-by-play announcer [and veteran English soccer talent] Ross Fletcher told McIntrye: “There were 76,000 people at Old Trafford [for a Manchester United match] but the 38,000 in Seattle make more noise.”

The Seattle Sounders have three celebrity owners — [billionaire] Paul Allen, [actor/comedian] Drew Carey, and [filmmaker] Joe Roth. How much access did you get with each of them and what kind of insight did they provide?
Joe and I spoke at length — he’s a great guy and a soccer fanatic. When he’s working overseas, he watches every Sounders game live, even if it’s 4 a.m. where he is. Unfortunately, Paul Allen and Drew Carey couldn’t make this game. I’ve interviewed Drew before, though, so I was very familiar with his involvement in the Sounders.

Sounders fans are known for standing through an entire match. In your experience of covering other soccer hotbeds (in Europe and around the globe), how would you compare fan involvement and engagement compared to that of other teams?
Sounders fans are as passionate and knowledgeable as supporters at soccer cathedrals like Wembley (London), Azteca (Mexico City) and the Bernabeu (Madrid), but without that potentially explosive undercurrent you sometimes find in Europe and South America, where rivalries date back 100-plus years. Fans in Seattle may swear en masse occasionally, but generally they’re well-behaved.

Can you give us an idea of the timeline you had to work with, from conceit until when the story was submitted for edit?
The nice thing about working for a magazine is having time to perfect a story. I got this assignment two weeks before the April 14 game and submitted my first draft about 10 days later. Then the pace picked up — before the story “closed,” I was in daily communication with editors and fact-checkers. It turned out great, but I had plenty of help getting it there.

What other teams or concepts did you consider before deciding to profile the Sounders?
It was an idea directed by issue editor Donnie Kwak. Because I’ve covered soccer and MLS for The Mag since 2005, I’d followed the Sounders’ success story and was thrilled that No. 1, we were doing this feature, and No. 2, that my bosses let me write it.

How did you balance this assignment with “Altered States (Insider content),” (page 86) highlighting the U.S. national team, and “Foreign Exchange” (pg. 90), about the MLS recruiting more players from overseas?
From the moment I knew we were doing the issue I wanted to be as involved as possible. It was a busy few weeks but I loved every minute of it. It’s an amazing issue cover to cover.

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