It started as a vague, insistent rumbling, like something industrial grinding over in Pioneer Square.
But this was rhythmic. And it got louder. It was coming closer.
It was a mobilized army of soccer fans — thousands chanting and singing in a display of support for a team that hadn’t yet played a game.
The symbolism was obvious: The Seattle Sounders FC fans were at a level above MLS standards before the team ever kicked a ball in the spring of 2009.
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So often over the seasons, the stories were about the fans, the attendance records, the sellout crowds. And, oh, won’t it be something when the team finally reaches the level of play these diehards deserve?
The payday comes at 4 p.m. Sunday when the 2017 Sounders play host to the New York Red Bulls and the black veil is pulled off the 2016 MLS championship banner in the west rafters of CenturyLink Field.
“It’s what this city deserves, with the support they’ve had over the years,” said star Clint Dempsey, who missed the late-season championship run when he was sidelined with an irregular heartbeat. “It was great for the team to bring them the championship.”
The term “great” isn’t an overstatement in this case, although “stunning,” “shocking,” or any other word capturing a high degree of amazement could be used for what the slumping Sounders pulled off.
The 2016 Sounders were having the worst season in franchise history, had fired their only head coach, Sigi Schmid, and were in a position of having to win almost every time out to make the playoffs.
And they did.
Kasey Keller was goaltender on that first Sounders team, and now serves as color commentator. He’s seen this team and fan phenomenon from the start.
“Obviously, having the amount of season ticket holders and fan support from the first game was a massive component,” Keller said of the team’s success. “But it was the collective of things coming together to build it that was unique.”
Keller cited some of other factors.
“You look at the partnership with the Seahawks, the void left when the Sonics left town, the success we had (competitively) that first season from Day One,” Keller said. “It was like a momentum that just kept building.”
But even when the team faltered last summer, the fans remained on their feet with their cheers and their chants and their scarves and their remarkable dedication.
One of the fans of that first Sounders team in 2009 was 14-year-old Jordan Morris, a youth soccer player from Mercer Island. Last season, playing for the Sounders, he was named MLS Rookie of the Year.
On Friday, Morris noted how symbolic it was that the Sounders unveil their championship banner today in a game against the New York Red Bulls, the same team they defeated in the franchise’s first game.
“To be on the field for that,” Morris said, “… it’s an honor to play for this city.”
The city, or at least the fans here, definitely has played a part in the team’s success. And its value. Forbes magazine named the Sounders the most valuable franchise in the MLS.
The city gave them a parade in December after they took the title in game at Toronto that they won despite never having a shot on target. And now they start their defense of that title.
“Look, are we the Seahawks?” Keller asked. “Of course not. Are we Manchester United? Of course not. But in a very short period of time, to have been able to build this to what it is, that’s very impressive.”
GM Garth Lagerwey said Friday that it’s up to them to determine how they’ll be viewed. If they falter, the championship will be viewed as a fluke. If they continue to flourish, the title will be seen as the “start of something long-lasting.”
I’d suggest that the real start of something long-lasting was the first March to the Match of the fans before the very first game.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS (0-1-1 POINT) VS N.Y. RED BULLS (2-0-0, 6 POINTS)
4 p.m., Sunday, CenturyLink Field
TV: FS1. Radio: 97.3-FM, 1360-AM.
Head to head: Seattle is 4-4-3 in the all-time series against the Red Bulls.
Notes: The Sounders were on the verge of their second straight road loss but managed two goals in the final 10 minutes to salvage a 2-2 tie against Montreal last week to earn their first point of the season. Now, they face the top team in the Eastern Conference before a festive home crowd that’s hoping to celebrate not only last year’s MLS Championship but the first win of the season. It won’t be easy. The Red Bulls have not lost this year or in their last 18 regular-season matches dating back to last year, which is one game short of the best unbeaten streak in MLS history. Both of their wins in 2017 have involved some good fortune. In their season opener, a goal by Daniel Royer (76th minute) and an own goal from Atlanta’s Anton Walkes (82nd) fueled a 2-1 comeback victory in United’s first MLS game. Last week, a Colorado own goal late in the first half and a shutout by Luis Robles lifted the Red Bulls to a 1-0 victory. Robles set an MLS record with his 142nd consecutive start and preserved the win with a kick save in the 72nd minute. Also, keep an eye on forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, who scored 24 goals last year, but is still looking for his first this season. The job of defending him is made tougher by the one-game suspension of Sounders centerback Ramon Torres. He’ll be replaced by Gustav Svensson, a midfielder by trade who had been playing right back. Oniel Fisher will start at right back on Sunday.
Next: The Sounders will break from MLS play next week. They host Club Necaxa from Mexico on March 25. They return to MLS action on March 31 at home vs. Atlanta United.
Darrin Beene, staff writer