Sounders’ groundbreaking title cements Seattle football in good faith

SEATTLE – Everything went well for the Sounders, who were spurred on for nearly two hours of screeching action by a sea of ​​Seattle fans in blue and green who pumped their signature electric power onto the pitch.

This was history, and it felt like a joint effort between a team and its fans.

For over 20 years, no Major League Soccer team has ever won the CONCACAF Champions League tournament, which includes the best teams from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. But the Sounders ended the drought with a downpour in the Pacific Northwest: a 3-0 win over Mexico’s Pumas on Wednesday.

How important was the victory?

During this week’s run to the game, Sounders CEO Garth Lagerwey called it an opportunity for football’s immortality.

In a promotional video, none other than retired Seahawks icon Marshawn Lynch called it a “great (expletive) game”. At half-time on Wednesday, with the Sounders leading 1-0, MLS commissioner Don Garber was in his suite at Lumen Field, looked me straight in the eye and called this the “greatest game in the history of the league” .

Since its inception in 1996, the MLS has sought to become an American league of such quality that it can connect with world powers. But until now, failure was a regular rite of passage for MLS in this annual tournament, with rival Mexican league teams having won the last 13 Concacaf tournaments.

The Sounders buried those failures Wednesday.

Initially the match was unstable and bogged down by physical play which forced a pair of key Sounders, João Paulo and Nouhou Tolo, to leave with injuries. But Seattle has shown its resilience. Goalkeeper Stefan Frei, named the tournament’s most valuable player, sustained a robust defense and Sounders continued the attack until striker Raul Ruidiaz scored on a deflected shot towards halftime. In the 80th minute, Ruidiaz scored another goal on a smooth counterattack.

Nicolás Lodeiro signs the victory with a goal in the 88th minute and runs towards the stands to celebrate in the midst of a frenzy of fans.

winning qualifies the team for the FIFA Club World Cup, a tournament full of football royalty. Chelsea in the Premier League won it last. Either Liverpool or Real Madrid will represent Europe later. Just being on the same draw as the teams in that pedigree is completely new to MLS

It is fitting, therefore, that the Sounders lead the league towards this new precipice. Since joining the MLS during a wave of expansion in 2009, they have enchanted this football-rich city by winning two MLS Cup championships in four heats to the final. Seattle has led the championship in all but two seasons, with fans in the area bringing Lumen the same fervor that Seahawks fans have become famous for. Maybe more. A tournament record of 68,741 fans showed up to see the home team play against the Pumas. On a Wednesday night.

How did Seattle become a giant of American football?

There is no single answer. Part of it is the city’s history of embracing the unconventional and the outré, which still describes professional football in the American sporting context. Seattle started Boeing and Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon. He gave the world grunge rock and Quincy Jones. Jimi Hendrix went to high school three miles from Lumen Field. Bruce Lee honed his martial arts skills within walking distance.

One of his great works of art is a troll sculpture found under a bridge. It has become customary to drape him in a giant blue and green Sounders scarf before big games.

This city’s love of football in all its forms – from the Sounders to the NWSL’s OL Reign, to colleges and youth leagues – is also the product of a specific past and a specific team: the original Seattle Sounders of long defined North American Soccer League.

From 1974 to 1983, those Sounders teams were part of the first bona fide effort to bring high-stakes US-based competition into professional football in this hemisphere.

If you ask me, a Seattle native who grew up at that time, I say that love began, specifically, with just one game.

Since I was 9 I have called it the Pele Game. It was then that I took a city bus downtown to see the original Sounders iteration. The date was April 9, 1976, the first sporting event ever held in the now demolished Kingdome.

A crowd of nearly 60,000, at the time the largest in North American football history, saw Seattle host the star-studded New York Cosmos and its leader, the greatest football player has ever seen: Pele. The Black Pearl, as he was known, had come to NASL to celebrate the last line of his career and as an ambassador to kick off the game in North America. I don’t remember the details of that match as much as I remember being in awe of the agile and powerful Brazilian.

Pele did not disappoint. He scored two goals in a 3-1 win.

The game was an omen. Those early Sounders players quickly became local legends, deeply woven into the fabric of the city. In those days it seemed to me that a Sounder visited every class of every public school. In 1977, the Sounders arrived at the Soccer Bowl championship title game. Played in front of a sell-out in Portland, Oregon, a three-hour drive south, they lost to Cosmos, 2-1, in Pele’s last non-exhibition game ever.

“I still have his shirt,” Jimmy McCalister said in a telephone interview. I could almost see the smile in his voice. A defender of that Seattle team and NASL rookie of the year in 1977, McCalister told me how he had somehow found the courage to ask Pele for his legendary No. 10 mesh. The legend obliged. The shirt is now in McCalister’s safety deposit box.

“People call me from time to time, wanting to buy it,” he said. It is not for sale. Some things are worth more than money. The shirt contains memory and soul.

McCalister loves modern Sounders. He hailed their cohesion, the blue-collar work ethic and their growing talent. Growing up in Seattle, he is one of many Sounders left in town after their playing days were over. These days he runs one of the best youth development clubs. Many others stayed behind to teach the game, coaching in clinics and high schools and colleges. Some helped lead a now defunct minor league team, also called the Sounders.

They kept football alive in the couple of decades between the end of NASL and the birth of the MLS

On Wednesday night, almost an hour after the game, the fans remained at Lumen Field. Vast swathes of them. Joyful songs echoed in the confetti-covered field. The players responded by raising the Champions League gold trophy aloft. Unlike the 1976 Kingdome game – the original Sounders versus the glittering star-studded Cosmos – this match was not memorable due to the opponent. It was memorable because of the home team, which has just entered the international map. And that would certainly make Pele, the proudest ambassador of long football, more than a little bit proud.