Backstage Access to a Cascadia Classic

Seattle-Portland. On the field, the Timbers wear Rose City Red and the Sounders their traditional Rave Green. The supporters mass in the stands, 64,000 of them, exhorting their teams to victory. The lineup for Portland is announced to a cascade of boos, Seattle’s to roaring echoes of each player’s name. Fireworks accompany the national anthem and the boom-boom clap rocks Sodo.

Typical fare for any Cascadia matchup, but different when experienced in a temperature controlled, corporate press box with a free buffet patronized by Sean Okoli. The Sounders were serving salads, baby carrots in thyme butter and sloppy joes. Okoli was scooping bacon bits from the salad bar onto his joe and I couldn’t help but comment how robust a meal it looked. Okoli smiled. Doing my best to keep my shaking hand from spilling my meal, I left the buffet and casually walked by Djimi Traore who looked like a dapper banker.

Andy Rose. Tristan Bowen. Drew Carey and Joe Roth taking the elevator. Sunday was my first game as a member of the media. It was a surreal experience for a lifelong sports fan and diehard Sounders supporter. I am a bootleg blogger, plugging away on my own, so I never thought I’d go from knocking out posts on my laptop to rocking a press pass with locker room and on-field access. I am grateful to Brian Stern, editor of Sounders Nation to which I contribute, who was out of town and generously provided me with his credential.

I got all dolled up and even shaved my silly ‘stache to turn from hirsute super fan King of Cascadia to mild mannered reporter Brent Schaeffer. My sister has been a journalist for over six years, chasing interviews and having stories picked up by the AP, but I never knew what it was like to be on deadline. During the game, I shot it with an Aussie named Joe Gorman who writes for the Guardian. After the Sounders had put the Timbers out of their misery, Joe asked “you gotta file now?” Yeah right! I felt like a kid playing dress-up. Hell, I walked around not talking to anyone my first ten minutes in the box and then bumped into Chris Henderson leaving the men’s room. I was more fixated on sinking my three-point paper towel shot from twelve feet away at the door that I didn’t notice him. I awkwardly clanged my watch against his and shuffled out. I was the least official person there and wasn’t on any strict deadline or real business, but I got a post up for Sounders Nation by 1am. At least for one night, I was not a fan but officially a member of the press.

Fans are part of the sporting spectacle. They respond, they yell, they boo, especially at a soccer game with tifos and chants and songs galore. I love all that. I get all decked out in my rave green and scream invectives at the refs, opponents, anyone. Attending a Sounders game really exercises my mammal brain, love of brother and hate of other. But as a reporter, I was removed from this dynamic. Cheering is discouraged in the press box and the glass deadens the roar of the game. I dressed objectively in slacks and a grey buttoned shirt. I had a singular experience, but it wasn’t the same. I felt like Uatu the Watcher, objective, removed and merely observing. I was following the prime directive to not interfere. Sometimes a door would open and the noise and heat would flow into the controlled environment. It didn’t really feel like Sounders-Timbers.

At the final whistle, I knew my wife was celebrating herself silly down in the stadium under the fireworks. I was hastily packing up my bag to do the real work, coach Sigi Schmid was about to give his postgame press conference. I followed the throng of media through concrete hallways to the interview room. We took our seats and Don Ruiz from the Tacoma News Tribune was talking the new Times beat reporter through the ropes. I listened in. Sigi came in and barreled through the questions a mere five feet from me. Nervous as hell, I didn’t ask a single question. I was meta-nerding out, as so many real reporters were there: Ruiz, Jeremiah Oshan, Jackie Montgomery, Matt Gaschk, among others.

It became sensory overload as we moved to the locker room. I was walking by a tall, corporate looking suit. Then I heard the suit talk and almost did an old Jack Lemmon double take, “That’s Ross Fletcher!” Later in the locker room I stood near Ozzie Alonso, who was clearly not talking to people, to hold my iPhone up to Chad Marshall but inside I’m like “dog, you’re a foot from Ozzie. You’re technically all up in his personal space and totally ignoring him. Surreal.” Then DeAndre Yedlin walked by. There probably isn’t a hotter American soccer player right now. The dude is all over ESPN and he just walks by. Damn.

I finally worked up my nerve and interviewed Marco Pappa and Stefan Frei. I looked like I belonged. If I kept cool and played the part they’d talk to me, and they did. It was intoxicating. In the media scrum in the hallway, I spoke with Clint Dempsey. I made eye contact, asked a question, and he answered. It wasn’t the Sounders-Timbers I knew, the elation and the passion, but rather a part of the game most fans never see. We had all just seen Deuce on TV, playing in Brazil and chatting with Letterman. Now he was talking to me. I wasn’t a fan or random stranger, but a journalist with an official place in the ecology of sport.

Leaving directly from the bowels of the stadium, still a-tizzy from all the commotion, I crossed the humid parking lot to meet up with my wife. She was waiting at the Chinese place we go to after games. I looked back to see Century Link alight and brilliant in the dusk. A couple was walking away from me holding hands in the wrong color green, and the busker at the stairs to the overpass was covering the Counting Crows. I hitched my bag on my shoulder and walked back to what I knew.

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