The following piece has been updated and edited since I originally posted it in April 2010.
Round 4 vs Kansas City Wizards
On Saturday, April 17th, Emerald City plays host to the Wizards of Kansas City. Occidental Avenue becomes a brick road for Sounders followers lead by Emerald City Supporters (ECS). The March to the Match will be accompanied by a marching band, Sound Wave, and a few thousand supporters with raised scarves singing and drinking loud pints of chants. We are polite folk here in Emerald City. Politely inviting visitors to our home pitch at Qwest Field. What we refer to as the Soccer Capital of America. Instead of a courteous welcome sign like, “home sweet home”, we have a respectful banner at the North End of Qwest Field with the welcoming words, “Welcome to Green Hell”. The banner hangs above the pitch displaying this slogan of sincere truth. A theme gaining popularity. Parents proudly point it out to their sons and daughters. It sounds polite doesn’t it? On match-day, in a sea of Rave Green supporters who welcome no one, Qwest Field transforms into Rave Green Hell. This is Sounders FC, where the gates of Green Hell smile, invite, and await the Wizards.
Confession: OK, deep breath, slight tremors of nervousness, beads of sweat . . . (whispering) . . . I like the Kansas City Wizards. Not like friends or anything. Not like I really even know them or anything. I mean I really don’t “know” them at all. No one does. Even the best Wizard supporters only know a few of their blue and black-collard players by name. Even that is only because of rote memorization. Not from actually, you know, “knowing them”. The Wizards don’t even know each other. Like the 70′s Batman TV series character, Riddler, who sported a “?” on his chest. This should be on the front of the Wizards 2010 kits. They are the biggest unknown in Major League Soccer. Kansas City was the first team to defeat Sounders FC at Quest Field, 1-0 in its inaugural season. That game featured another Sounders FC first. The first red card. Handed to Kasey Keller for use of hands outside the box. That win was the highlight of Kansas City’s 2009 season. The Sounders later got revenge during a late season playoff run. They won on the road in Kansas 3-2. There were also rumors last year the Wizards could relocate to St Louis.. Their home field, Comerica Park, is a multi-use field. One of the worst MLS home pitches. It’s like playing soccer on a part Triple-A baseball, part football field. Not acceptable. So this unknown rag-tag team of Wizards needed something to settle their spirits.
. . . then came the big news.
In December, from behind a mysterious curtain appeared a real Oz. On December 17, 2009, Wizards President, Robb Heineman began posting video updates on the Wizards website about the teams new stadium plans. In January, they broke ground. One of the keys to moving so fast was the Kansas City suburb county approval of “Star Bonds”. Wizard supporters could buy bonds to support the stadium being built. The Wizards ownership, OnGoal, LLC, scored on what was nearly a franchise headed out-of-bounds. Even dressed in Rave Green, I stand in support of the Wizards. The stadium will be ready in 2011. In the meantime, in this early 2010 season, they are playing like a team somewhere over the rainbow. Undefeated so far in 2010. They are completely unaware that even Common Sense itself picked them to be bottom of the league dwellers. Instead, the groundbreaking momentum of the franchise has sprung the players into a twister of believing they are a rag-tag team on a journey searching for their true identity. Their Oz-ownership has stepped forward demonstrating knowledge, heart, and courage. Heineman, has kept them in Kansas. So, the Sounders will need to wake them from their brick road dream. I am “Sounders ’til I die”. I am good polite people, but tomorrow I will be a bad guy. It is time to slap this band of rainbow chasing Wizards back to Kansas reality.
Keys to the match:
Take away hope. Attack and score early. Allowing Kansas an early goal permits their back 4 to lock the game up. Sub in a couple defensive midfielders and they can close up shop. Scoring early forces Kansas into playing more forward, taking chances. The Sounders are an attack minded opportunistic team who capitalize on other teams forward pressing risks. This would allow Seattle to use their speed to create solo breakaways, or odd man advantage rushes, a 3-on-2, or 4-on-3.
Possess the ball. Passing widens the field opening defensive holes. Use speed to get wide and deep attacking runs through the midfield seems created by good passing and ball movement. From pressing forward and wide cross into the box using central attacking numbers to finish. Then, let our defense lock down the game.
Sounds simple, but the true key to the match is grit. Seattle will need to fight for this one. The Wizards already have this game mentally won because no one has awoken them from the “over the rainbow” dream start they are having. Grit and grind. It is time to wake up the Wizards and prove the banner true. Yes, the Wizards have arrived in Emerald City, but the real-estate belongs to Sounders FC. So, with a warm welcome, I politely invite Kansas City into Green Hell!
Post Match: The Fucito Finish
Do you know Michael Fucito? Did you see his historic finish in stoppage time? It is the highlight of the week and likely the month. It may even be the one we look back on for goal of the year. No matter, it stands on its own as historic. It will forever be remembered and named for Fucito’s grit in commitment to finish a brilliant late winner.
How do you spell spectacular, exquisite finishes in soccer? In Barcelona, it’s M-E-S-S-I. In soccer history, it’s P-E-L-E. In Seattle, it’s F-U-C- (OK, this is an appropriate language site, no matter what you think, I’m spelling the name of a Harvard Graduate, so stay with me folks and I’ll pull this one out of the gutter) -I-T-O. Years from today Sounders supporters may refer to a late stoppage time winner as what it was named today, the Fucito.
For 90 minutes fans stood, chanted, and cringed watching chances come close, but slip by the goal in the end. Zakuani’s speed down the left only lasted for 15 minutes. Kansas made him play more compact, defensive, and out of position for any breakaway goal. So, late in the match, Sigi went to his bench. First to appear was Roger Levesque. For his next sub, Sigi pulled one from the coaches magic hat. He put in hard-working, Harvard Graduate, Michael Fucito. Initially nothing changed. Then came the bizarre moment of the match. The Full 90 concluded. The ref allowed the game to play on into stoppage time, but no indication of how much stoppage time would be allotted was signaled by the fourth official. Then, almost 1 minute into stoppage time, the fourth official finally held up the sign for 4 minutes. Remember 4 minutes? Yes, last week. The Real Salt Lake buzzer beater that took our win and deflated it to a draw. Like me, many fans had an evil Rave Green smile thinking, “maybe this is our turn”. We are in “Green Hell” after all. Unfortunately, If you took a moment and thought about who the hero would be, then looked out on the pitch, no Sounder made you feel a hero was there today. The ball was played lazily into Kansas City’s half and strolled out-of-bounds on the right side for a Sounders throw-in. Nothing was taking form and the refs end-of-match whistle made the impending feel of another draw that much more frustrating. The refs watch turns to the 92nd minute. Brad Evans takes the throw in. Evans is the 70th minute sub, an attacking midfielder. So his taking the throw-in means one less attacker. I’m thinking to myself, like 36,000 others, “why doesn’t Riley, a defender take the throw-in? Oh well, at least we’ll get one point for the draw.” Evans uncorks a quick, sharp throw-in diagonally down the right side. Fucito, comes out of nowhere, sprinting left to right, like he’s running a Matt Hasselbeck late game audible. His speedy and timed run onto the ball narrowly beats out the defender. Like a receiver, he brings the ball into his feet perfectly. Immediately setting up his own right footed blast on goal. A hesitation and the goaltender is set to make the save. Fucito, places the ball in front of goal with poise drilling a one-timer into the nylon swell of the Brougham End net. (south end goal)
Sounders Win!!! Sounders Win!!!
Not so fast.
Soccer 101: The time you are most susceptible to conceding a goal, is right after you score a goal!
36,000 finally had a brilliant and historic goal to celebrate. The players were ready to walk around the pitch in celebration, applaud the fans and take a bow. The match wasn’t over. Kansas broke down into Seattle’s attacking third with ease and an immediate buzzer beating equalizer was on the right foot of the Wizards striker. Even I didn’t turn back to the match until I heard the gasp of the crowd and . . . . “Keller”! Keller parried the ball away to his right side. He was, how should I put this, beyond anger at having to make that save. You could just about hear his yell over 36,000. Of the 36,000 in the stands, 11 on the field, Keller was the only Sounder still playing. He saved the day! He saved the match. Then as quickly as he played the role of hero, he quietly stepped aside. The consummate professional, veteran, and team Captain quietly stepped aside, so the young glassy-eyed hero Fucito, would have his day as the hero the fans wanted. After all, he had just scored a Fucito.
This match will be remembered. Named because of how spectacular and special the win is. Time will tell if this young franchise adopts future stoppage time winners as “Fucito”! Who knows? For today, 36,000 at the X-Box Pitch danced and chanted his name. Today Sounders supporters celebrated, The Fucito Finish.