SEATTLE — All the pieces broke right for the Sounders, who were prodded for nearly two hours of grinding motion by a sea of Seattle fans in blue and green who pushed their trademark electric energy to the pitch.
This was history — and it felt like a joint effort between a team and its supporters.
For over 20 years, no Major League Soccer team had ever won the CONCACAF Champions League tournament, which incorporates one of the best teams from the US, Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. However the Sounders ended the drought with a Pacific Northwest downpour: a 3-0 win over Pumas of Mexico on Wednesday.
How essential was the win?
During this week’s run-up to the match, Sounders General Manager Garth Lagerwey called it a probability at soccer immortality.
In a promotional hype video, none apart from the retired Seahawks icon Marshawn Lynch called it a “big (expletive) game.” At halftime on Wednesday, with the Sounders ahead 1-0, M.L.S. Commissioner Don Garber stood in his suite at Lumen Field, looked me steadily in the attention, and called this match the “biggest game within the history of the league.”
Since its inception in 1996, M.L.S. has sought to turn into an American league of such quality that it could stand toe-to-toe with world powers. But until now, failure was a daily rite of passage for M.L.S. on this annual tournament, with teams from the rival Mexican league having won the last 13 Concacaf tournaments.
Well, the Sounders buried those failures on Wednesday.
Initially the match was choppy and bogged down by physical play that forced a pair of key Sounders, João Paulo and Nouhou Tolo, to go away with injuries. But Seattle flashed its trademark resilience. Goalie Stefan Frei, named the tournament’s most useful player, backed up a stout defense, and Sounders kept up the attack until forward Raul Ruidiaz scored on a deflected shot late within the half. Within the eightieth minute, Ruidiaz added one other goal off a smooth counterattack.
Nicolás Lodeiro sealed the victory with a goal within the 88th minute and ran toward the stands to rejoice amongst a frenzy of fans.
Winning qualifies the team for the FIFA Club World Cup, a tournament stacked with soccer royalty. The Premier League’s Chelsea won it last. Either Liverpool or Real Madrid will represent Europe next. Just being in the identical draw as teams of that pedigree is entirely latest for M.L.S.
It’s fitting, then, that the Sounders will lead the league to this latest precipice. Since entering M.L.S. during a wave of expansion in 2009, they’ve enchanted this soccer-rich city by winning two M.L.S. Cup championships in 4 runs to the finals. Seattle has led the league in attendance in all but two seasons, with area fans bringing the identical fervor to Lumen as Seahawks fans have come to be known for. Perhaps more. A tournament-record 68,741 fans showed up to observe the house team play Pumas. On a Wednesday night.
How did Seattle turn into an American soccer behemoth?
There isn’t any single answer. A part of it’s the town’s history of embracing the unconventional and outré — which still describes skilled soccer within the American sports context. Seattle birthed Boeing and Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon. It gave the world grunge rock and Quincy Jones. Jimi Hendrix went to highschool three miles from Lumen Field. Bruce Lee sharpened his martial arts skills just a brief walk away.
One in every of its great artworks is a troll sculpture that sits underneath a bridge. It’s turn into customary to drape it in a mammoth blue and green Sounders scarf before big games.
The love felt by this city for soccer in all its forms — from the Sounders to O.L. Reign of the N.W.S.L., to schools and junior leagues — can be the product of a selected past and a selected team: the unique Seattle Sounders of the long-defunct North American Soccer League.
From 1974 to 1983, those Sounders teams were a part of the primary bona fide effort to bring big-stakes, U.S.-based competition to skilled soccer inside this hemisphere.
Should you ask me, a Seattle native who grew up in that era, I say the love began, specifically, with a single game.
Since I used to be 9 years old I’ve called it the Pelé Game. That’s after I took a city bus downtown to observe that original iteration of the Sounders. The date was April 9, 1976, the primary sporting event ever held on the now-demolished Kingdome.
A crowd of nearly 60,000, then the most important in North American soccer history, watched Seattle host the star-studded Latest York Cosmos and its leader, the best player the sport of soccer has ever seen: Pelé. The Black Pearl, as he was known, had come to the N.A.S.L. to rejoice a final stanza of his profession — and as an envoy to spark the sport in North America. I don’t remember details of that match as much as I remember being in awe of the lithe and powerful Brazilian.
Pelé didn’t disappoint. He scored two goals in a 3-1 win.
The sport was a harbinger. Those first Sounders players quickly became local legends, deeply woven into the town’s fabric. In those days, it looked as if it would me that a Sounder visited every classroom in every public school. In 1977, the Sounders made it to the league’s Soccer Bowl title match. Played in front of a full house in Portland, Ore., a three-hour drive south, they lost to the Cosmos, 2-1, within the last non-exhibition game Pelé ever played.
“I still have his jersey,” Jimmy McAlister said in a phone interview. I could almost see the smile in his voice. A defender on that Seattle team and the N.A.S.L. rookie of the 12 months in 1977, McAlister told me how he’d in some way summoned the nerve to ask Pelé for his fabled No. 10 jersey. The legend obliged. The jersey now sits in McAlister’s lockbox.
“People call me once in a while, wanting to purchase it,” he said. It’s not on the market. Some things are price greater than money. The jersey incorporates memory and soul.
McAlister loves the trendy day Sounders. He hailed their cohesiveness, blue collar work ethic, and their growing talent. Raised in Seattle, he’s certainly one of many Sounders who remained in the town after their playing days were over. As of late he runs certainly one of the highest junior development clubs. Many others stayed to show the sport, coaching in clinics and at high schools and colleges. Some helped guide a now-defunct minor league team — also called the Sounders.
They kept soccer alive within the fallow pair of many years between the N.A.S.L.’s demise and the birth of M.L.S.
On Wednesday night, nearly an hour after the sport, fans remained in Lumen Field. Vast swaths of them. Joyful chants rumbled right down to the confetti-covered field. Players responded by lifting the gold Champions League trophy high. Unlike that Kingdome game of 1976 — the unique Sounders versus the glitzy, star-studded Cosmos — this matchup wasn’t memorable due to opponent. It was memorable due to home team, which just put itself on the international map. And that will surely make Pelé, long soccer’s proudest ambassador, greater than somewhat proud.