The Seattle Sounders are making history this weekend in so many different ways. Not only will this be the largest Sounders attendance since they entered MLS in 2009, it will also be the largest soccer crowd in state history! And because CenturyLink Field is shared with the Seahawks, the attendance will likely either match or exceed the greatest numbers that Seattle’s NFL team has ever packed into the stadium.
As the club and their coach get prepped for such a momentous occasion, they couldn’t help but show their excitement about finally giving the soccer-crazed culture of our state the epic home championship match they deserve.
Head Coach Brian Schmetzer met with the assembled media after his team’s first pre-Cup training session of the week on Wednesday, and he assured everyone that he and his players are more than ready for the big game. “This is it, it’s the final week of training, it’s the final game. It’s been a rollercoaster ride season, up and down, start off great, up and down in the middle, but we’re ending on a strong note, so I think the guys are a little anxious. They’re ready.”
Head Coach Brian Schmetzer met with the assembled media after his team’s first pre-Cup training session of the week on Wednesday, and he assured everyone that he and his players are more than ready for the big game. “This is it, it’s the final week of training, it’s the final game. It’s been a rollercoaster ride season, up and down, start off great, up and down in the middle, but ending on a strong note, so I think the guys are a little anxious. They’re ready.”
As we at Washington Youth Soccer know quite well, soccer culture in Seattle and Washington as a whole has been strong for decades. Schmetzer is perhaps the most successful product of multiple eras of soccer in the state, from his playing days with the original NASL Sounders under coaches like Alan Hinton to his successful run as head coach of the pre-MLS Sounders in the early 2000s. “I had a couple of great mentors early on, Jimmy Gabriel, Alan Hinton, I’ve played for various coaches where I’ve picked ideas. Obviously Sigi [Schmid] was also a massive influence on me.”
But while nearly anyone who knows Washington soccer respects and recognizes Schmetzer’s quality, occasionally he has his detractors. But he’s not worried about them. “I get enough respect at home. My mom loves me, my wife loves me, my dog loves me.” Can’t argue with that.
But it’s not just the coaches that Schmetzer sees as vital to his success and that of the sport in the region. The fan culture that permeates other sports is just as strong in soccer, and he likes to see everyone come together to celebrate each others’ success. “I tell people, look I skipped school when the Sonics had their parade, I was there with the Seahawks celebrating them. Being a Seattle guy, I’m really proud of what the organization has accomplished.”
The history of soccer in Washington is strong and diverse, but it all begins at the youth level. The foundations laid by many of the clubs in Washington Youth Soccer allowed for soccer to thrive in the 1970s and 80s, which further strengthened to help create such an awesome culture that’s thriving today. “There’s history has a long tradition of being a successful franchise. This right now is a pretty high point for all of us that have put in some of that work back in the 70s, 80s, through the lean years of the early 2000s in the USL and A-League days. This is a culmination of all the people that stayed here,” Schemetzer said.
It doesn’t hurt that it’s been absolutely gorgeous all week as the Sounders prepare for the big game at Starfire Sports in Tukwila, and Schmetzer credited the beauty of the Northwest as to why it’s so attractive to fans, players, everyone. “I think that one of the things is that, look, it’s November 6th. It’s a gorgeous day out here, this is a beautiful place to live and raise families, it’s a safe, growing city. It’s a tremendous area, not just the city of Seattle but Tacoma, up north, Puget Sound, the mountains…there’s a lot of reasons why those players stayed.” He also credited the culture of soccer that’s been building for decades, starting back when he was a player. “The culture of the club started with that relationship between the fans and the players when they started handing out the carnations at Memorial Stadium, when we did soccer clinics for kids. Ron Best and all those guys, Alan…we had so many guys going out into the communities to do little appearances, reading books to kids, all of that stuff that happened back in the 70s and 80s is again, the foundation to the culture and the relationship between the players and the fans.”
Schmetzer isn’t the only one excited for the fans to experience the city and the soccer atmosphere this weekend. A handful of players met with the press this week as part of the pre-Cup festivities, and hometown kid Jordan Morris was especially enthusiastic about showing off his hometown to the soccer world.
“I think that Seattle is such a passionate sports city in general. But the team was immediately embraced by the fans when they started here and I remember going to that first game as a kid and just falling in love with it,” Morris said, “the culture here, we have the best fans in the league, they show up game in and game out and make this a tough place to come to.”
When he was told that youth games might be cancelled or that young players might skip their own games to see the big game, Morris gave a little laugh of understanding. “I think that just shows the growth of the sport and how much the city has embraced this team and how much this team means to the city. Just the fact that these kids want to come to the games and support the team, and I guess the refs do too…it’s super exciting and obviously for the kids out there, keep working hard and keep dreaming big.”
Morris was just in high school when the Sounders entered Major League Soccer in 2009, and he wouldn’t have missed that first match for the world. “I went to that first game and I dreamed that I wanted to be on that field.” He said that it was “pretty surreal” that his journey has taken him all the way from being that kid in the stands to playing in a Cup final in the same stadium. “The kids who come on Sunday should be doing the same thing if that’s what they want. If they want to be on that field someday, keep dreaming big.”
But overall, Morris is just excited to bring another trophy to the fans. And this time it would be in front of nearly 70,000 of them. “Personally it would be a dream come true to win an MLS Cup in my hometown. Obviously, we got one before and that was super special, but to win one here in front of our fans, they deserve it and this city deserves it. We’re looking forward to it.”