Tens of thousands of Seattle Sounders fans turned out Tuesday for the parade and rally honoring the MLS Cup champions.
Roman Torres, whose decisive penalty kick made it all possible, leaned out of his trolley car and sprayed Champagne into the crowd. Osvaldo Alonso hopped off to drape a Sounders scarf over the statue of Chief Seattle at Tilikum Place. Players took video of fans taking video of players, who looked just as radiant and revved up as those feting them.
The Sounders, who won a riveting MLS Cup final Saturday night in Toronto, reaped one of the fruits of that title Tuesday: a victory parade through the streets of Seattle, navigating a sea of rave green from Westlake Park to the fountain at the Space Needle.
Players and staff, many of whom had gaudy championship medals draped around their neck, were carried in Emerald City Trolleys — or at least, most of the way. Eventually, coach Brian Schmetzer, clad in casual jeans, hopped off and walked for a stretch among the tens of thousands of fans who attended the event, which culminated in a rally on the Fisher Lawn and fountain mall.
“That’s just the way I am,’’ Schmetzer shrugged later. “I like being with the fans. I am a fan. It was just natural.”
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This love affair between Seattle soccer fans and the Sounders dates to their fledgling days of the early 1970s, but there’s nothing like an MLS Cup — the Sounders’ first — to ramp up the intensity. The Cup itself, a glistening silver beauty, was one of the stars of the day, periodically hoisted and waved about by a rotating series of players, always to reverential response.
Stefan Frei, the goalie whose already epic save of a Jozy Altidore would-be score Saturday was evoked in signs and posters throughout the parade route, was greeted with constant chants of “MVP! MVP!” When he spoke at the rally, Frei soaked in another round of chants and demurred, “We’re all MVPs.”
Certainly, that was one take-away from the gathered masses, who sang, cheered, chanted and otherwise saluted their heroes, almost three years after the Seahawks took to the streets following their Super Bowl win over Denver. That Seahawks parade drew nearly 1 million spectators, while Tuesday’s crowd was estimated at about 40,000 by team officials. But they didn’t lack in fervor, which clearly moved the Sounders.
“It was more than what I imagined,’’ said Schmetzer, who took the microphone at the rally and said: “I know what this is all about: The relationship you guys have with these players. That’s what this club is all about.“
“I believe success thrives in a positive environment, and you guys are the cornerstone of that,’’ Frei told the masses gathered for the rally. “So this one is for you.”
The narrative of the Sounders’ season added a measure of sweet incredulity to the celebration. At midseason, they were buried near the bottom of the standings. They fired coach Sigi Schmid in July and elevated Schmetzer, his assistant. Their leading player, Clint Dempsey, was sidelined with an irregular heartbeat.
And yet the Sounders rallied, all the way to the MLS Cup final, where a scoreless match through regular time and 30 minutes of overtime yielded to penalty kicks, and the eventual game-winner by Torres. (Who, incidentally, wore a jaunty Panama hat from his homeland and did a spirited dance on the stage.)
“Man, who would have thought we’d be here?” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said, addressing the crowd during the rally. “We did. We did. We had a resilient group. We overcame some things. We fought back. We persevered. It was unbelievable.”
The usual dignitaries attended the rally, starting with Mayor Ed Murray, who added the only somber note when he mentioned the police officer injured in the parade, and asked for a cheer for all the police do for Seattle. Murray then proclaimed it “Sounders Day” in Seattle, which it seemed to be already even without the official stamp.
King County Executive Dow Constantine led a “Seattle” “Sounders” call and response, then said, “I always wanted to do that.” In introducing retiring congressman Jim McDermott, Constantine said, “On behalf of everyone here, I want to say, ‘You’re welcome for your parting gift: an MLS Cup.’ ’’
McDermott, a season-ticket holder from the Sounders’ first MLS season, admitted he was wondering in July, “What is happening? It was like there was no hope. But if you stick together and fight together and pull together and don’t worry about the credit for you, just worry about passing it to the other person, that makes a team.”
And it was that team that soaked up all the accolades and frolicked on the stage. An ebullient Zach Scott, one of three original Sounders — Alonso and Brad Evans are the others — led the crowd in the revamped version of “Jingle Bells” the Sounders have sung after road victories since Schmetzer was a player, not a coach. The key verse is, “Oh, what fun it is to see Seattle win away.”
A few players tried to coax the shy and admittedly rhythm-challenged Jordan Morris into dancing, to no avail.
“I’ll dance next year,’’ Morris promised.
That was a recurring theme, as well — the notion that a celebration of this sort should be a repeat affair.
“We will continue to build,’’ Evans said. “One is not good enough. We’ll go after two.”
Owner Adrian Hanauer pondered the Sounders logo that has been newly emblazoned with a star, symbolic of the MLS Cup.
“I was looking at it this morning, thinking that it would be even better, a little more balanced, with two stars up there, right?” Hanauer said. “Ozzie’s phrase was, we’re not finished yet. We’re finished for this year. But we’re just getting started.”