Sounders Fan Forever

In the summer of 1974 I was a young boy just shy 7 years old.  I was still impressionable and taking in what the world had to offer.  My dad, a carpenter, came home from work one day and stated that he was taking me out to an event in town that evening.  This was news to be, but an evening out with just my dad was bound to be fun and was always special for me. Unbeknownst to me that event was going to be one of those trans formative moments in life .  We drove over the I-90 bridge, across Lake Washington into  what to me was the big city of Seattle. We were headed to Memorial Stadium located in what is really knows as the heart of Seattle, the Seattle Center, where the symbol of the city is located, the Space Needle.  We parked and walked up to what was then a rather modern looking little stadium, of course it looked huge to me as a small bright eyed seven year old boy.  We walked into the stadium, which had  a rather large entry, and right there opened up the biggest venue I had ever been in.   The stadium  was filled to the top with over 13,00 fans.  We did not even have seats, we just walked up to the rail on the northeast corner of the stadium.  My dad let me stand on the rail and he stood right behind me and we watched what was a new event to me, soccer.

The game was a match between the hometown club the Seattle Sounders versus the Philadelphia Atoms.  The Atoms, at the time, were the defending NASL champions.  I don’t remember so much the details of the game, but the energy in the stadium.  People were excited to see these 11 guys in green running all over the field. The only parts of the game I can really remember were the Sounders goalie.  A Englishman named Barry Watling.  He wore a cap, and by cap I mean like the cartoon character Andy Capp.  He also had some stuffed animals he threw into his goal net for good luck.   The other player I remember was a small player with long shaggy dark hair wearing number eight named David Butler.    I remember the joy of the fans when the Sounders scored, even then it was loud. The game was an exhilarating experience for a young boy and would end 2-0 with David Butler scoring both goals.  At that moment I was hooked to the game and my childhood idol would be that number eight.  And my favorite sport and sports team would be those eleven “lads” kicking that black and white ball, the Seattle Sounders.

Years of my youth would go by and I would endure much with my Sounders.  I would see the Sounders bid on some Brazilian guy named Pele.  Only to lose out to the dreaded New York Cosmos.  I would watch in exasperation the  Soccer Bowl in 1977 in Portland, Oregon.  Where Pele and the New York Cosmos would win.  But the real painful moment was watching goalie Tony Chursky roll the ball in his penalty box, only to have New York Cosmo’s forward Steve Hunt sneak up from behind him, steal the ball and put it in  the Sounders net.  A few years later at soccer camp in Port Townsend, Washington, a group of us got together and drove down from camp to the Kingdome in Seattle to watch the Sounders play a semi-final game against the LA Aztecs.  There were 58,000 people at the game and the Sounders would come away winners in the game. During my formative high school years I would still go to a game in the Kingdome every now and then.  The league however was starting to fade at that point. But by the time I went to college the NASL had folded and the Sounders were gone and so was a part of my youth.

Luckily the game did not die in America and it continued to gain in popularity.  Though the professional league was gone we still had the game and we still had former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.  He would lead an effort by the United States to bring the games greatest event, the World Cup, to the United States in 1994.  When the US won it was with one condition, the United States had to start-up again its own professional soccer league.  And at the stroke of a pen Major League Soccer was born.  The World Cup in 1994 would signify two things (actually three – it was the first holiday my future wife and I spent together (she has been to a lot of soccer games since around the world).  It would launch the sport as a major force in the competitive US sports landscape and in Major League Soccer we were given a venue to see it grow.  The term soccer moms would appear as more and more kids, boys and girls sought to play at a higher level.  With the MLS it provided a target for the re-birth of the Seattle Sounders.

During this period the Sounders had not disappeared, in fact they were very much still alive. They were in the A-League, which was the only form of professional outdoor league there was.  They played at first at the old Memorial Stadium, and it was getting very old, before moving on to the newly built Qwest Field.  I went to games at both when I could and saw the Sounders win a few A-League titles. But the feel was different.  The crowds were small, usually around three to four thousand.  It was also becoming easier and easier to see higher level European clubs play on television and at bars.  You could definitely see the talent gap when you went to a Sounders game.  It was like going from the NFL to high-school football.  But I loved the game and continued to adore my first childhood sports team and some of the players I saw went on to have pretty good careers, that are still going in the MLS.   Players like Brian Ching, Zach Scott, Sebastian Le Toux, and Marcus Hahnemann (who actually played for years in the English Premier League).  Though these were not exciting years in Seattle Soccer they laid the ground work for what was to follow.

It finally happened, 13 years after the first match on Major League Soccer history, the Seattle  Sounders were taking the field as the newest MLS franchise.  The sounders leadership had done an excellent job of building up excitement to the game.  Sounders gear was showing up everywhere in town.  Seattle’s statues were wearing Sounders gear. My friend and I had gotten on board early and bought season tickets.  We had 4 tickets, I had three.  For the first game I took my two oldest and after I left work we left our home on March 19th  and got n I-5 to travel south to Qwest Field.  The traffic was terrible but in an exciting way it was quite festive.  There were a lot of cars with windows rolled down wearing what would become the “rave green” color of the reborn Seattle Sounders.  Despite being stuck in pitiful Seattle traffic, people seemed genuinely happy.  After an hour we made our way into Seattle and parked the car and began the march to the stadium.

When we got to the stadium it was packed with people trying to get in.  There were loud and festive voices, in fact you could tell that some had been “festing” all day.  Walking to our seats you saw a crowd that was dressed up in the Sounders rave green for the occasion.  We got in and met my friend Joe at our seats. The Stadium had been configured nicely for soccer, though the stadium holds 68,000, for the first game the Sounders has just used the lower half – which was filled to capacity with 32,000 Sounder fans.Though I had read about the players during their pre-season tour I really did not know many of them, with the exception of our goalie, Kasey Kellar a local hero raised about an hour south of Seattle in Lacey.  Kasey had achieved much success abroad prior to coming to Seattle.

The Sounders kicked-off against the New York Red Bulls and soccer was reborn in Seattle.The game was a joy to watch and a joy to be a part of.   Without going into the play by-play of the game, it can only be said that it was a magical experience.  It was launching something new and exciting not just in the city but in America.  The Sounders were setting a new standard for soccer in the United States.  The game was fun to watch and when the Sounders scored, via a Freddy Montero goal the stadium erupted in jubilation.  The Sounders went ion to win that night 3-0.  The timing was perfect as at that time Seattle sports needed something to get excited about (The Seahawks, Mariners and Huskies stunk and the Sonics had left for Oklahoma City).

As I left the stadium with my friend Joe and my two eldest sons I could not but help feel the mantle of my youth was being passed.  The memory of that summer night in 1974 had transformed itself to now I was the father and my kids would grow up attending many games of the team I supported as a child.  But that is how sports across the world work, father transferring his passion to his children.  One day hopefully my kids will pass that same love to their children.  Rave green forever.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann December 31, 2012

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