TUKWILA, Wash. – The Seattle Sounders have accomplished a lot during their time as an MLS club, but they’ve never had an opportunity quite like this.
After playing the visiting role in each of their two MLS Cup final appearances against Toronto FC in 2016 and 2017, the Sounders now get to play host when the clubs meet in the league’s championship bout for the third time in four years at CenturyLink Field on Nov. 10 (3 pm ET on ABC, Univision. TUDN, TSN, TVAS).
The response to the news that MLS Cup would be held in Seattle has been predictably massive. When tickets went on sale to the public on Friday morning, they sold out in a matter of minutes. CenturyLink, which has a capacity of just under 70,000 is going to be packed to the brim. The buzz in the city is already palpable, and speaking with reporters at Starfire Soccer Complex on Friday, Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said the massive stakes of the matchup – and the implications of what a win would do for the club and the city – are far from lost on anybody within the organization.
“I’m not a big transformative guy – like all of the sudden [we win] and a magical alien drops down from outer space and then suddenly we sell out every game with 69,000 people from here on out,” Lagerwey said. “Do I think that it really helps build awareness within the community? Yeah. I mean, look at it. People are literally clamoring for this. It’s the hottest seat in town. The closest experience I can tie this to from my own background is the [Concacaf] Champions League Final in 2011 [with Real] Salt Lake. That became, for the first time, the hottest ticket – not just in RSL history, but in Salt Lake history.
“[Hosting] kind of puts us on the map,” he added. “It is absolutely a way to take us forward and to lift our organization up and hopefully take us up a notch.”
But with that opportunity also comes a whole new set of external factors and variables that the club is going to have to deal with. Hosting a final is a whole different animal than traveling to one, as the Sounders are already finding out.
The local media presence at Starfire on Friday already had more local reporters on hand than any training session during the regular season or playoffs, and that’s before all the national outlets that will descend on the city in the coming days. The circus-like atmosphere is already taking hold, and Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said keeping his players focused on the actual game at hand is a challenge he’s going to have to address.
“I used that messaging [in the Western Conference Final] against LAFC,” Schmetzer said. “Which team has the most pressure? Is it the home team that’s expected to win or is it the visiting team? Now, the one thing I would say about this game is you can throw some of that out because it’s a final. The players are going to be up for it.
“But there is that subtle pressure that might be there and we’ll have to address it. We’ll have to get the players through it. We’ll have to give them the tools so that they can mentally overcome any sort of feelings of nervousness or whatever. But I’m confident that my team can do it because, look, we went down 1-0 to LAFC and they figured out a way how to come back.
“[Having an experienced team] with all the media stuff, [helps] knowing what to expect in big games,” he added. “But then again, I think all of our players have played on the big stage in their careers, whether it’s us or with their national teams. So, the guys will be ready.”
Lagerwey said the Sounders are also aware that none of the hype surrounding the spectacle of the match is likely to matter if they don’t take care of business in the match.
A win would give the Sounders two titles in four years, to go along with an impressive recent trophy haul that includes a Supporters’ Shield and a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup double in 2014. Beat TFC in this year’s final, and Seattle have their foot in the door in the discussion of as a potential MLS dynasty.
A home defeat, however, and all of that talk stands to go out the window.
“It’s a big swing from a historical perception if we win this one or we don’t,” Lagerwey said. “So, I think we’ve got to be ready for anything. … I think if we win, will that be an event that brings the city together? Yeah. I think it really could. Truly, I think it matters if we win or lose. If everybody shows up and we get blown out, that’s not going to be the same experience than if we’re able to take this in and get the title in front of the home fans.
“History will be the judge. If we win this game, that’ll have a lot of merit. If we don’t, it’ll have a lot less.”