Rarely are professional athletes the ones standing on furniture to look at someone else.
But on Tuesday, it was the Seattle Sounders climbing onto their VIP seats, pulling out their iPhones and filming 4,650 raucous fans at CenturyLink Event Center. The Sounders and American Outlaws, a group of American soccer supporters, co-hosted a Seattle watch party for the United States’ instant-classic 2-1 loss to Belgium.
It was a rare role reversal, as the Sounders were awed by the fans, instead of the other way around. The team sat in a roped-off section in the middle of the standing-room only crowd. But as they climbed on chairs, players could watch and take photos of the scene around them.
In that mass of humanity were men draped in American flags — the grown-up versions of Superman capes. Girls bedazzled their cheeks with glitter and paint. Red lipstick, blue jean shorts and shutter shades ran rampant.
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Someone brought a vuvuzela. Someone else brought an American flag on a 10-foot pole. Everyone brought their voices and hearts.
The now-popular “I believe” chant ran its course through Tuesday’s watch party, getting casual sports fans, graying grandfathers, energetic kids and everyone in between launching themselves into the air and screaming for a victory.
Sounders goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann has been on two World Cup teams, and had never seen — in person — anything like the insanity at CenturyLink on Tuesday.
“People coming down here today, it’s awesome,” he said. “It gives the guys that sort of — everything you’re doing is worthwhile. Everybody is behind you. It’s an amazing feeling.”
There aren’t many places in Seattle where a Seahawks Super Bowl shirt would feel out of place, but this was one of them. Green was visible only in the occasional Sounders jersey, as Seattle cheered on its own, DeAndre Yedlin and Clint Dempsey.
When Yedlin made his first appearance of the match much earlier than anticipated because of Fabian Johnson’s hamstring injury, CenturyLink nearly lost its mind with pride.
The Sounders themselves were barely distinguishable from the frenzied patriotism at CenturyLink.
“I’m in my seat jumping up and down,” Sounders forward Chad Barrett said at halftime. “It’s nice to be a fan.”
Or at least it was nice for a while. Two Belgium goals in extra time sucked the air out of the crowd, as if someone had stuck a needle into the bubble.
Julian Green gave fans hope — and a higher decibel level — once again after his extra-time goal. But time ran out on what would have been a historic American comeback.
Fans left CenturyLink not with smiles, but with streaks of red, white and blue on their cheeks. Clutching their faces in agony over the drama-filled afternoon had done a job on their carefully crafted face paint.
While most of the Sounders shared the fans’ pain at the watch party, two were experiencing it for themselves in Brazil.
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, speaking of Yedlin and Dempsey, said, “Players after a World Cup, you’re a little melancholy when you come back. It’s like the air’s been completely let out of the balloon, physically and emotionally.”
He just as easily could have been talking about that room of 4,650 at CenturyLink.