Seattle Plays For Keeps

The Seattle Sounders’ capturing their fourth US Open Cup in six years has me all a tizzy. It is so easy to love this team for a multitude of reasons (beautiful soccer, homegrown stars, plucky émigrés and a charismatic coach, to name a few), but Tuesday’s gritty win reminded me of this club’s ambition. The Sounders want to win everything. They are a seriously, legitimate, we-want-to-be-the-very-best driven team. We are lucky here in Seattle to have such a team. If it takes hiring the best coach available, the Sounders will do it. If it takes paying the biggest salary in the league, the Sounders will do it. Seattle is absolutely committed to excellence. It’s great as a fan to know they care as much as you do.

The soccer culture the Sounders cultivate affects more than just fans. Players want to be Sounders. Take Kenny Cooper for example. The man has, twice in his career, scored 18 goals in a season. It must be hard to go from an unquestioned starter to a fringe player fighting to be in the 18. Tuesday night, Chad Barrett started over him. Coop had owned the USOC, but Barrett has been playing better lately and Sigi wanted to win. Sure enough, Barrett did what he does and put a ball in the back of the net. And you haven’t heard one word of complaint from Cooper. He’s just happy to be here.

Though they risk minutes, great players want to play in Seattle. We should be honored by the Coopers and the Barretts who couldn’t wait to transfer to Seattle. That says a lot about our team, our city, our overall soccer culture. Clint Dempsey himself, when he visited for the US-Panama World Cup Qualifying game summer of 2013, said Seattle was one of a kind. Our draw is real. And it is phenomenal in the most literal sense. Seattle is a one-off, a phenom, a Brigadoon for American soccer.

My wife and I went to four weddings this summer (Alaska, Pennsylvania, Southern California). In our travels, I met many people who proudly called themselves longtime soccer fans, or recently interested parties. But all these “soccer fans” stopped short of saying they’re MLS fans. Maybe they caught soccer fever during the World Cup and only support the USMNT. Or maybe the World Cup was a gateway to soccer, but “only watch European leagues.” Or they’re longtime Eurosnobs who live and die with a team in a city they’ve never breathed a mortal breath in. I found this very odd. None of the people I met said, “I am an MLS fan” (other than a kid in Disneyland wearing an RSL t-shirt, who, thank god, booed me when I said Go Sounders!). But the “soccer fans” who are too good for MLS will still bag on Chivas, the Union, their local teams. Can you imagine someone in Green Bay saying, “I am a football fan, but The Packers just suck. Who’d watch them?” In the rest of the country, MLS still has that uncool stink about it: you can’t befriend that kid or other people will think you’re weird too. Luckily back home, here in Seattle, soccer is cool and the Sounders are ice cool.

Maybe because our team cares. Maybe because they never mail it in. I used to misattribute a quote to Norman Rockwell, “Everything you do is masterpiece of yourself.” The Seattle Sounders are always painting their masterpiece: every game, every practice, every signing. The Seattle Sounders fight for every record. The Seattle Sounders fight for every trophy. They never take a game off, or make excuses or settle for anything but their best. And that attitude inspires our city. In Seattle, we play soccer for keeps.

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