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Seattle Sounders 2009
2009 Club by Club
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A dream come true, only bigger and more magical than anyone could've imagined.
In its first season, the Seattle Sounders FC proved to be fantasy futbol in the flesh. Eye-popping achievements all around, from the field to the fans to the club's community outreach. Everything and everyone the Sounders FC touched seemingly turned to rave green. And green is good.
"Arguably one of the best expansion launches in all of pro sports," said MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
Proof of that success is found everywhere.
A championship banner hangs from the Qwest Field rafters and a trophy sits in the team offices.
Led by a 53-piece marching band, fans flooded the streets of Pioneer Square for the March to the Match and then filed into the stadium, filling every available seat for each and every home MLS match-16 consecutive sell-outs.
The collective passion of this club and its supporters is clearly evident from afar: the pulsating, scarf-waving sea of green is a sight to behold, and to hear the roar first-hand can send shivers up the spine. American soccer has never seen or felt anything like it.
Certainly the club ownership was confident that the World's Game would take hold in Seattle. Soccer had long ago taken root in the community and its first pro team, the Sounders of the NASL, had been enthusiastically supported. Later, the proponents of the sport helped push through an initiative to build a world-class venue, Qwest Field.
By 2009, the hunger for an MLS team was ravenous. They didn't need glitz or added incentive; their appetite for soccer was authentic. The kids who had tagged along with parents and coaches to the Kingdome were now parents and coaches themselves. Sounders FC was welcomed with a firm embrace.
Twenty-two thousand season tickets were sold and the club responded by twice increasing stadium capacity to accommodate the demand. Listening to its fans has been part of the franchise's fabric since its inception.
The people chose the team name and, during the first season, the season ticket holders and other paying members voted to name themselves (Members Alliance) and the band (Sound Wave). They also elected representatives to serve on the advisory council to club leadership. The Alliance realized the vision of Drew Carey, owner. Carey conceived the notion of a Democracy in Sports movement in which supporters would have a voice in the club's direction.
The partnership between club and community was ever-present. Players and coaches volunteered nearly a 1,000 hours of service. They signed shirts and scarves and exchanged hugs and handshakes with fans after games, training sessions and wherever there was a congregation. Together, Sounders FC nation raised over $100,000 for local charities and set an MLS record by raising more than $22,000 for the "Nothing But Nets" program.
Majority owner Joe Roth, a movie producer, believed that Sounders FC could be successful on and off the field. However, if the first season's story had been presented beforehand as a screenplay, Roth might have rejected it out of hand for reading too much like a fairytale. Yet fantasy became reality, indeed.
Sounders FC shot off the mark, becoming the first expansion team to win its first three games, and it did so without allowing a goal. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid delivered to the fans an XI that was instantly cohesive, fearless and attack-minded.
Schmid had been an integral ingredient to successful sides of the past, winning two MLS Cups and a record number of regular season and playoff games. But after basking in the total Sounders FC experience of opening night, he was nearly overwhelmed.
"It was everything you dreamed," he said following the nationally-televised, 3-0 victory over New York, "it was a beautiful result. The crowd was outstanding. The atmosphere was tremendous."
Whereas most of the players had arrived in the Emerald City as strangers just a few weeks earlier, from those ranks a folk hero was born with every winning feat.
A young Colombian forward with a flair for the unexpected, Fredy Montero came first, scoring three goals in the first two matches. No sooner had stylish Swedish midfielder Freddie Ljungberg made his first start and he had scored his first goal, pointing the way to a 2-0 win before a hostile capacity crowd in Toronto.
A Northwest native, goalkeeper Kasey Keller, made his return home one for the league record books, refusing to allow a goal for his first 375 minutes.
Sounders FC finished the first half of the season with the fewest losses of any first-year team, and the demand to see games had never been greater. Capacity was increased to over 32,000 and still every night was sold out.
A seemingly endless sun-drenched summer saw huge throngs in excess of 65,000 turnout for friendlies with Chelsea and Barcelona, plus a pair of dramatic performances in U.S. soccer's longest-running competition, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
A penalty kick in the 89th minute pushed the Rave Green past Kansas City and into the Cup semifinal. There, they worked their magic once more, equalizing in the dying seconds of regulation and scoring the winner in overtime. Through to the Open Cup Final, Seattle summoned a performance for the ages.
Playing on the road 2,700 miles from home and depleted by injuries, Sounders FC faced cup holders D.C. United. Aggressive from the outset, the visitors eventually broke through twice in the second half to win, 2-1. Saluting the hundreds of supporters who had made the long trip from Washington to Washington, D.C, the players hoisted the trophy aloft. Hours later in the middle of the Seattle night, scores more greeted the team's flight home and kissed the cup.
With the cup came a greater confidence and, facing four road trips in the final six matches, that boost proved pivotal. They won three of those four, most notably ending a record 22-game home unbeaten streak by Columbus and coming from a goal down at Kansas City to seal a playoff spot. Finally, before the largest and loudest home crowd to date. Seattle defeated FC Dallas, 2-1, to finish with the fourth-best point total overall.
Schmid addressed the stadium afterward, praising them for a partnership that had resulted in a storybook season. "You" said Schmid as his eyes surveyed the sea of green, "have been the best fans in Major League Soccer, hands down."
Minutes later, before turning his attention to a postseason confrontation with Houston, he reflected further. "The support that we've gotten from the city, the love that they've showered upon our team and the organization-and hopefully what we've returned to them as well-we just want this to continue."