SEATTLE – The Seattle Sounders waited eight years in the league for their first MLS Cup trophy. And they officially reached that Summit with Saturday’s penalty kick shootout triumph over Toronto FC at BMO Field.
So on Tuesday, what seemed like most of Seattle took an afternoon to celebrate.
The Sounders launched an epic victory parade and rally for tens of thousands, beginning at the Westlake Center downtown and ending with a massive rally in front of the iconic Space Needle. The moving party featured a little bit of everything.
Roman Torres attempted to rope Jordan Morris into his own personal dance party; head coach Brian Schmetzer exited his trolley to walk with the raucous crowd of marching fans. And then, in a moment that's already infamous online, Clint Dempsey sent the crowd into bedlam by dishing out some trash-talk directed at the Portland Timbers.
“This is more than what I imagined,” Schmetzer told the assembled media following the rally. “There were a lot of people out in the streets of Seattle celebrating those guys up there. So, I was overwhelmed, I was impressed; I was very thankful to be a Sounders fan today.”
It was Schmetzer who provided the first memorable moment of the afternoon, when he decided midway through his team’s jaunt through the streets that he would rather walk with the fans.
"It's just the way I am," he said. "I like being with the fans. I'm a fan, I was a fan for a long time. So it was just natural."
Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer, general manager Garth Lagerwey, and Schmetzer -- as well as a list of players that included Morris, Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso and Zach Scott -- all addressed the crowd at the ensuing rally. The latter even led a rendition of the team’s reworked rendition of "Jingle Bells," which they sing after road victories.
But it ended up being Dempsey who provided the most memorable moment of that portion of the event at the expense of Seattle’s Cascadia Cup rival Timbers – winners of last year’s MLS Cup. He took the microphone after being coerced by chants from the crowd.
“All I gotta say,” Dempsey said, “is now that we won one – Portland can’t say s---.”
Morris was a bit more diplomatic during his discussion with reporters following the rally. But the 22-year-old, Seattle-area native admitted that the accomplishment of bringing his hometown club its first-ever MLS Cup trophy was one that hadn’t entirely sunk in yet.
“It’s so surreal,” he said. “To grow up and be such an avid fan of the Seahawks, the Mariners, the Sonics and, obviously, when we got a [soccer] team I was a big, big Sounders fan. To go to the first game [in 2009], from that time to now, it’s been a crazy whirlwind. It’s just been an honor and I’ve been very blessed to be a part of this team.”
Sounders fan Joshua Van Dyk – pictured to Schmetzer’s left in the photo below – used the same adjective as Morris when asked about his initial emotions following Tuesday’s festivities.
Van Dyk, a member of Seattle’s Emerald City Supporters’ Group, has been attending Sounders matches since their 2009 expansion season, when he made his first away trip to the team’s US Open Cup final match against DC United at RFK Stadium – and was part of the team’s away contingent of supporters at Saturday’s final in Toronto.
“This is all still surreal to me,” Van Dyk said. “Just the atmosphere there [in Toronto], the atmosphere here, this city is just 100 percent behind the team. Whether it was at the bottom of the [Western Conference] or culminating with today’s event – this was a trophy for the city. I’m still having a hard time believing that this actually happened.”
That sense of disbelief seemed to prevail for many fans assembled. It all arrived at the triumphant tail end of a season in which the Sounders had largely been written off after winning just six out of their first 20 matches.
By now, the rest of that story is history. The Sounders rattled off an 8-2-4 stretch to end the season as the West’s No. 4 seed, before dispatching of Sporting Kansas City, FC Dallas, the Colorado Rapids and Toronto en route to their first MLS Cup.
“I think the important lesson that everyone learned is that Seattle is a place of resilience, whether that’s struggling at the bottom of the table, to going to matches that people said we didn’t have a chance in,” said Van Dyk. “I think going into the MLS Cup, ESPN had us at a 36 percent chance at winning. Yet, here we are lifting the trophy up in Seattle in front of thousands of fans. I think that defines this club and the city.
“Everyone had this dream and the fact that it’s here, every day I wake up and realize that we’re home to the 2016 MLS Cup champions.”
But there was also another widespread sentiment espoused by both Hanauer and some of Seattle’s players: That this team doesn’t plan on stopping at one. With linchpins like Morris and 27-year-old Uruguayan sensation Nicolas Lodeiro, the Sounders feel as though they’re built to last – that there’s little reason why Tuesday’s parade should be their last.
“You have to enjoy this for a little bit,” said Morris. “Obviously, it’s awesome that we got one. But when next year gets going, we’ve got to push for two. This’ll be in the past. We have to try and catch the Galaxy [at five]. We’ll keep pushing and [hopefully] eventually get there.”