Imagine it is Christmas Day. Then imagine you are 7 years old, or 5, maybe 6, even 4 will do. Your “Dear Santa”, Christmas wish letter, written in crayon scribbled clarity surely reached the North Pole by now? You ache for Christmas morning. Despite a short dream of marshmallows, candy canes, mom singing Christmas carols, ninja reindeer, and a rocket bobsled. It was a sleepless night. Your aching for morning reaches climax. You explode from your bed into spirals of clothes. In a single thrust and splat you are downstairs. Is there proof he came? The cookie you left him? Oh yes, it is gone alright. The sprinkled crumbs over a short scribbled note written on the napkin you left him, are absolute proof. ”Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas”. Presents are stacked, wrapped in sparkle, flicker, and bows all around the tree. Definite absolute proof. He was here. Now that his presence delivering presents has been proved, it is only about one present. The one you cast your wish for. The one you took time to specifically write him for. The one you wish for above all others. Did he get your letter? Did it get to the North Pole in time? Was it lost in a blizzard? You lost sleep over this one. Over everything else, you want this one. Concept of space and time is useless. You feel swirled and stuck, captured in still life with Christmas tree and aching desire. Then comes the joyful misery of outrageous and extensive morning ceremony. You die a little with each firework-flashbulb-snapshot of pleasantry. Nothing. Your letter was lost. Your letter didn’t matter. Santa never even read it. It is over as quickly as it came. Your wish got lost up the chimney. Then, through the blur of misery and spectacle a voice says, “did you see the one in the corner?” Nothing was missed. This thought confuses you. Is this ridicule? With your cosmic accurate radar, ultra powered precision laser beam, and brain inserted sonar present detector there is no possible way you missed, “the one in the corner”. Like a police officer on duty, you oblige the voice, turn to the corner and walk toward it like a cowboy in a sundown showdown. There will be no ridicule here. A child’s lost wish is on the line. Bundles of bows and torn sparkle paper from the other, mostly fun presents, are pushed aside. Static electricity, hair standing, you are frightened by the impossibility there is one left in the corner. You surge forward, “could this really, truly be the one”? You muse the possibility, for an instant. Shreds of ribbon and paper fly. In thrill and delight you reveal, a box. A box? Death by ridicule. You faint. You have lost all desire to ever, ever wish for anything ever, ever again. Again the voice. ”Well, aren’t you curious what’s inside”? No decorations and lots of heavy tape. The plainness disappoints you. The words “Dining Room Dishes” in thick black marker confuses you, especially in a morning of super fantastic spectacular. In certain defeat you stare down the box. You poke and pick at the tape with one finger. Then two. three, both hands join in the sudden scratch and tear of fury from lost hope. The last shred of tape torn away. The flaps of the box pulled back. Christmas tree lights shine inside the box like hundreds of flashlights pointing the way in a dark cave. Peering inside, doubt and icecap like disappointment slowly melt away. Something larger than love swells all around you. It is come true. This is your Christmas wish.
I have not had the glorious pleasure of celebrating the passing of that moment to a son or daughter. Challenges in having children has been a dark life challenge. Yet, in this 41-year-old frame, I’ve found my child’s age in my own unique sports franchise. No imagining or wishing. It is real, and I am part of it. I didn’t inherit an existing team. One entrenched in the local community for generations. Instead, I’ve been part of starting one. In Seattle, there is a long settled belief that we are a likely candidate for Soccer Capitol of America. Our fan base was tops when the Sounders joined the NASL in 1974, and the entire league was crumbling in certain decline when we left a decade later in 1984. We have been ready and waiting ever since. Waiting for our Christmas wish to have a “top flight” club. No “A-League”, no “USL“. We have wanted only what we felt was the right kind of soccer. ”Top Flight”, “Premiership”, “Major League”.
Finally, unwrapped in confetti and fireworks in March 2009, the Sounders jumped out of a plain box sports league, Major League Soccer. From the start Sounders FC leapt in with international expectations never sought by any US team from any US sport. Success in Seattle is a self-imposed demand stated above even the most hopeful wishes other franchises have started with. Winning an MLS Cup league title is not good enough. Sounders want to be number one in the world. The first US team to win a FIFA Club World Cup.
As the Sounders battled through the 2009 US Open Cup, every owner and supporter sweated with grasped scarves and crossed fingers. Would we have winning action to support our wishful words? In the Sounders final two USL seasons leading up to MLS expansion they made their presence felt in the US Open Cup. Reaching the semi-final in both 2007 and 2008. Knocking out a handful of MLS teams in the process. Then came the start of the 2009 inaugural Major League Soccer season. Sounders FC started league play going 3-0 and were swept up in a whirlwind of Rave Green hysteria. Quietly, they began US Open Cup Play-In qualification rounds. With none of the same excitement and press as the inaugural matches the Sounders qualified for the 2009 US Open Cup. The matches were played at 5,000 seat Starfire in Tukwila. The matches sold out but didn’t have the same newsworthiness. Plus the team was really copying its previous USL achievements. They pushed all the way to a third straight semi final. The opponent was the powerful Houston Dynamo. It appeared a pat on the back was all that was in store for our young MLS franchisee. Late in stoppage-time, tied 1-1, his head wrapped like a wounded soldier, Nate Jaqua scored the winning goal. ESPN did not show Nate’s dazzling winning goal on Sports Center. It should have. Because forget that it is soccer, forget it was in Tukwila, forget it is only the US Open Cup, it was one of the more entertaining and exciting highlight worthy sports finishes. After heated debate over where the final would be played, a slighted Sounders FC ownership had to bow to the whims of Major League Soccer’s lovechild DC United. They would fly to RFK stadium to face the leagues most beloved and storied franchise on its home pitch. Seattle went on to win 2-1. Two hundred Sounders fans flew to DC and nearly out roared United’s 20,000. Winning the 2009 US Open Cup trophy in our inaugural season sent a message to the league that Sounders is more than talk.
With the 2009 US Open Cup victory, Sounders FC gained its first opportunity at international glory. A 2010 CONCACAF Champions League Play-In match vs Isidro Metapan. A decent stepping stone for a franchise entering only its second season. Sounders defeated Isidro Metapan in a 2-leg play-in series for CONCACAF Champions League qualification. Winning at home 1-0, and drawing away 1-1. The Sounders won on aggregate goals 2-1. This placed Seattle into the CONCACAF Champions League group stages. The Sounders drew Group C with Saprissa, Marathon, and mighty Monterrey of Mexico. Easily the “group of death” of the 2010 Champions League. How delicious. How wishful. Only season two, and the Sounders play their first meaningful international matches. The US Open Cup may be as plain-box a tournament as we have in the US. Little exposure, and “dining room dishes” written on top of the box. Yet, if you have an ounce of competitive passion in you and believe you know what love for sport is, then this tournament is the best American Christmas wish US Soccer has to offer.
The US Open Cup started in 1914. One of the oldest tournaments of its type in the world of soccer. However until Major League Soccer started in 1996, when DC United won the US Open Cup, no team you or I ever heard of had won the tournament. It allows professional and amateur teams to compete. Since 1996 when MLS joined, only one non MLS club has won. The Rochester Raging Rhinos won in 1999. The Sounders were close in 2007 and 2008. No other professional American team sport has a competitive tournament like this. Tournaments where, let’s say, Durham could potentially face the Yankees. In soccer it happens each year in the US Open Cup.
I wished for this. An imagination gift. A plain box club in a plain box league. Add a Rave Green shirt, a few fireworks and confetti to the sheer magic of 35,000 + fans. It became everything I wished for. That one hidden gift in the corner.
In November 2007 I paid $100.00 to become approximately the 670th supporter to reserve 2 seats to a team with no name. No colors, no players, and not even a completed ownership group. Drew Carey, while not the primary owner, brought a spark of personal touch rarely seen. The “Scarf Seattle” campaign turned the concept of a brown box start-up franchise inside out. Even when Beckham plays, no MLS attendance reaches 30,000. With the second season completed, the Sounders are closer to an average attendance of 40,000 than most MLS teams are to 25,000. The Sounders are closer to 40,000 than the LA Galaxy are to 30,000. The Galaxy even have Landon Donovan and David Beckham. Yet this Sounders team grows on something bigger than love. It is connected from city to owner to player to supporter, and anyone who has waited on an unopened wish. The team loves its fans back.
(Below section was written prior to the the Sounders 2nd US Open Cup Final appearance in as many years against the Columbus Crew.)
Tomorrow, the Sounders have a chance no team in American sports history has ever had. The chance to open that surprise, wished for package in the corner. The Yankees have not opened anything like it. The Cowboys never even looked to see if such a wish was there. The Steelers have long since had their heads down counting rings. The Red Wings, all too often thawing octopus. The Blackhawks still dazed and confused by the end of their Stanley Cup drought. The Giants are more excited about a possible future Super Bowl in winter in New York, and Red Sox folk are all still writing and publishing stories about how bad things were before they got so great. Even Jordan never found this plain brown package in the corner. Tomorrow, Seattle Sounders FC, in year two make their fourth straight US Open Cup semi-final appearance against Chivas USA. A win for Seattle not only gives them a chance to defend their 2009 title, but to do it playing in front of 36,000 Rave Green supporters at Quest Field. An additional match not on the schedule at the start of the season. This could be the cake match. The wished for gift that only seems to appear as a child. A childish franchise, the Sounders have an opportunity to play for Everything any team could ever hope for. Wednesday, September 1st 2010, could be the day. Why? A second US Open Cup is a second ticket to international competition in Champions League 2011. Reach the Knock-Out stages after Group play and the sky is the limit. World supremacy could be achieved.
It is sport after all. So from this plain brown box gift in the corner there could just as easily be a broken Christmas day child’s toy. Or it could also be proof that as adults sometimes something bigger than love, or common understanding exists and springs true from the most unlikely places. Tomorrow, I ask you to believe. Even if it is for Chivas USA. They are 5 years old, and they’ve never won anything. Believe in this game tomorrow. It is our country’s cup. Our US Open Cup. This is our history and be part of opening it up. My 5 year-old nephew started Kindergarten today. I want him to live his dreams. Maybe I can set an example for him tomorrow in the most unexpected place. The brown box sport in the corner marked in thick, dark marker, “Soccer”.
This picture is from the Sounders 2009 US Open Cup. Not an AP photo or from the Getty archive. This is a photo from my Sounders photo album. Our owners let us have it to march with in celebration of our 2009 Open Cup victory. I think of it as Christmas Day 2009. An average Rave Green match-day with a bunch of usual Sounder FC supporters, marching to an ordinary plain box regular season soccer match.
Sales on Sounders elf