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Sales on Sounders
This is my story following the Seattle Sounders FC ascent as the first American soccer club to top the world of international football. This blog is my story of that attempt from match day experience, travel to away matches, various social media, to meeting other supporters. My greatest hope is to entertain and inform. In telling the Sounders story I’m creating a place intended for your pleasure and participation. Sales on Sounders is as much an account of my journey with the Sounders as a conversation you as a reader. The purpose is to expand the interest of the sport to a broader audience. To unite and grow a unique world of people and their sport to a more casually interested American audience. Even if sports are not your cup of tea, I hope to engage you in a manner that arouses your interest in the story of what happens next. I am simply one supporter making an account of the Sounders owners, players, coaches, and fans attempt at summiting such an unlikely peak at the top the world in club soccer.
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More about SalesLike so many young Americans playing youth soccer from age 9 through high school. I found my abilities waning soon after starting high school. Realizing the US National Team wasn’t going to call me, I gave my focus to cross country, cycling, and theatre. So, it is not only amazingly bizarre, but a life changing experience with a classmate in theatre that I had my most significant soccer experience. The one that leads directly to who I am now and writing this blog.
While a senior in high school my theatre classmate Dawn was a junior. I played, Howie the Milkman, in my final senior production of, Our Town. She played a Towns-person. Dawn also played on the school soccer team. As early as my sophomore year, when I wasn’t training with the cross country team or rehearsing, I would sit on the hillside next to our high school practice pitch watching the girls play. One day, during rehearsals, she asked if I would co-coach a 9 year old girls soccer team. I hesitated briefly, unsure where I’d find the time, but gave her my impulsive commitment. I accepted her offer more out of honor and pride that I felt from her asking me, than anything to do with soccer. Having never coached soccer, I felt free of any expectations.
For our first practice I had all the girls take turns just standing on the field in different basic soccer positions. Fullback, Midfielder, Forward. Central positions and wide positions. Two reasons for this. One, I had no idea what to do. Two, I had watched a lot of youth soccer with my brother. The basic instinct for kids new to the game is fling toward the ball like a magnet cluster. My hope in this exercise was to have them realize how big the field was. How much room between each other. My friend finally got practice on track and set up some basic drills. I was good for doing demonstrations of the drills she set up. Only one or two girls on our team had ever played before. The rest were first year. For our first game we played a team in its third year. Five goals were past us in no time. I thought, one goal for us will feel like victory. The girls never stopped working hard and earned that one goal. We lost 6-1, but the one goal made it easy for me to convince the girls at practice how much of a success that was. After that game we tied or won the rest of our games.
Three moments changed my life. Changed the way I see sports, think of sports and made me realize why soccer over any sport should be taken seriously from age from to high school graduation, and it does not matter if you play or watch.
The first moment was a coach of a first year 9 year old boys team that practiced on the same field. One evening toward the end of practice he strolled over and asked if we’d like to scrimmage. I didn’t feel it was a good idea, but deferred the decision to the girls vote, which was a charged and unified scream of acceptance. So, it was on, 9 year old boys v girls. Not much time passed and the obvious strength difference was clear. The girls just sort of bounced off the boys. The boys pushed the ball in clusters up the field and scored. But one curious difference took hold. The boys continued to magnetically swarm the ball in groups of 4 and 5 with only 1 or 2 girls joining in. I looked around and the rest of the girls stood around patiently, if not bored just waiting for something to happen. The ball would eventually pop free and the girls just kicked it down field. After a while of this odd game of cluster and wait, I began to see advantages take shape for the patient girls. With the ball leaving the clusters and getting kicked right back to the defense the boys never gained ground. The girls instincts to direct more at goal started to take shape. Eventually the girls scored the equalizer, and a clear sense of victory took hold.
The second moment was just simply that the boys wanted another chance. Again I truly hesitated, as scrimmaging against boys seemed to distract from focusing on our own preparation. Again, I deferred to the girls, and again my ears rang from their screams of acceptance. This time was different. One side played with confident heads, the other desperation. The girls pressed from the start. They seemed to instinctively know the boys would cluster and the ball would pop out. They started passing and not just kicking the ball down field. The boys were under constant defensive pressure. The girls broke through and took the lead. I figure the retaliation instinct of the boys would kick in and things would level. Instead the girls continued to hold field possession while the boys held cluster possession. Once the ball was loose the girls continued to press the ball on goal. Without coaching, the girls had discovered as a team, head the ball towards goal and good things happen. The second goal, the brace, was scored. I may have taught the girls something about field position, but that group of 9 year old girls taught me a lot about patience. The boys coached congratulated us, and was impressed how well we had position on the field rather than swarming to the ball. Walking away, parents, especially fathers came up to say “hi”. I had only met 1 or 2 parents to that point. The sparkle in their eyes said everything. “Did our girls just play those boys?” I answered with a confident, yes. “They looked like the did a pretty good job”. Yes, they won 2-0. Christmas. That is the best word I can think of to define the expression of the parents. Someone forgot to tell any of them this was only a scrimmage. Truth be told, I looked to the heavens in complete amazement, thanked the sky, wondered where the trophy ceremony was and when would we hold the parade.
The last significant moment, was everything that soccer is. Joy and struggle playing side by side. The last game of the season was against the same team we faced in the first game. The team who had played for 3 years and crushed us 6-1. They scored first, but this time we fought back and tied. Then, came that “bad news bear” moment. You know the one, the girl who started out in practice struggling with figuring out how to get the ball to move, much less run around with it, and move with it. She took the ball from just inside the center line and powered all the way to the penalty box for a goal. 2-1. We all knew that no matter the final outcome, we were an amazingly well transformed team since our first game. They tied. We scored what we thought was the late winner only to give up a last minute equalizer. It was a thrill, a 3-3 thrill that felt more meaningful, more epic than if we had won. Their coach stopped to shake both our hands and directly in our eyes said, “this is the best team we’ve played in 3 years. Hope to see you next season”. We were just a high school junior girl, and high school senior boy. And for a long proud minute, college seemed unbelievably insignificant. To this day I still wonder, “what if?”
I played for several years. My favorite moment as a player was diving for a loose ball in front of net with our keeper down, and clearing the ball out-of-bound a moment before an opposing forward could poke it in. I sent him sprawling and saved the game. I received defensive player of the week.
I first saw the Seattle Sounders in the Kingdome on astroturf at 13. This was during the Sounders first run in a US top flight professional league in the NASL. The game was against the Vancouver Whitecaps. I loved the feel of the live game. It was unfortunate the NASL did not survive. So in November 2007 when the current ownership group first started accepting deposit requests for the 2009 inaugural season I jumped at the opportunity. Each seat was a $50.00 deposit. I put $100 down for a pair of seats. Placing the initial deposit felt like finding the cure for everything missing in Northwest sports. There was no team name, no uniforms, no team colors, only only ownership commitment and lots of hope. There had been great support during the NASL Sounders. Even decent support during the A-League run on up to the then current USL Sounders, but none of that support was MLS tested. At that time it still felt like this effort could end up like another one of the several failed MLS attempts in Seattle. There was no sure thing. So when it was officially published that our season ticket holder support crossed the 10,000 seat threshold, it finally felt like this would be the real deal. The whole process leading to this season, our second full MLS season has been a wonderful ride. Everything from voting rights, voting to keep the original team name by fan write in, the crazy wonderful Rave Green kits, Drew Carey’s Sound Wave band, to the March to the Match. This team is in the business of making money, but its community roots in supporter-ship is as authentic as there is in professional American sports history. This team is the best example of a pro sports team that is about setting and making its own goals and not following any other team traditions or histories.