The joy that soccer can bring washed over Lumen Field seemingly seconds after the Sounders stepped onto the turf.
The visiting side Colorado badly played a ball on its own end line, Sounders forward Will Bruin intercepting the poor clearance. Bruin then cut the ball back to a charging Cristian Roldan in the box, the latter sending a strike past Rapids keeper Clint Irwin in the 2nd minute.
As flames shot into the air for the goal celebration before 31,425 people in attendance, the horrific events of the week were put aside if only until the conclusion of Seattle’s 3-0 win Sunday.
“The start was exactly what we needed,” Roldan said.
The night began with somber moments after The Athletic on Thursday published details of sexual coercion and verbal abuse former National Women’s Soccer League players Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim said they suffered while playing for teams coached by Paul Riley.
Riley was subsequently fired from his post with the North Carolina Courage, all the weekend’s NWSL matches were postponed and the resignations of NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird and general counsel Lisa Levine were accepted.
Outrage overflowed globally from the soccer community with FIFA and U.S. Soccer launching investigations into the league as more players — including OL Reign players — stepped forward with their stories of abuse and feelings they needed to keep quiet for the betterment of the nine-year-old league.
A cluster of fans held a demonstration outside Lumen Field before the Sounders’ match in support of NWSL players. During the game, The Brougham End supporters also had signs that read “Protect NWSL Players” and “The NWSL Knew What He Did,” the latter alluding to Farrelly notifying the league last spring of a 2015 investigation into Riley’s misconduct while both were with the Portland Thorns FC.
The Sounders posted a statement on Lumen Field’s large screens that read, in part: “To our OL Reign family: we are thinking of you especially during this incredibly challenging time. Collectively, we are working to ensure that Washington is the safest most inclusive place to live work and play.”
“The response from the crowd when that statement came out was incredible,” Roldan said. “The way both teams were clapping. The whole stadium was all for it. That’s what we wanted to see. That’s what soccer is all about, bringing people together.”
And that soccer unity is supposed to feel like Sunday. Creative footwork that leads to scores, daring blocks at the mouth of goal and passionate confrontations.
Roldan initiated that return. Bruin then dug up a deep pass from the center circle to Roldan on the right wing, the play continuing to build with a cheeky pass from midfielder Joao Paulo to Jimmy Medranda for a screamer into goal in the 22nd minute.
Joao Paulo closed out the scoring in first-half stoppage time with a determined run reminiscent of Seahawks legend Marshawn Lynch. From the 50-yard line, the Brazilian was tugged, pushed and clipped by three different Colorado defenders before slotting a shot past Irwin inches outside the keeper’s box.
“Maybe because the other players know me, that I’m the type of player that passes,” said Joao Paulo, as translated from Portuguese of leading the Sounders with nine assists. “They probably felt that it was unlikely for me to go that way. But I kept going, kept progressing and got near the box and completed the play. If it wasn’t my most beautiful goal, it was certainly one of the most beautiful ones.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said the score kept his halftime messaging positive. The plan was a terse conversation with defenders Yeimar Gomez Andrade and Nouhou for their “sloppy” play in the back.
Seattle was likely only able to secure the clean sheet because of center back Xavier Arreaga. He had two blocks in the box and was able to stop a possible Rapids goal early in the first half.
“I made the remark about yelling at Nouhou and Yeimar and Stef coming up big,” Schmetzer said. “But I though Xavi was very good. He had some good interceptions and critical passes at the end.”
Stefan Frei had the final key save by cupping a header attempt midair from Rapids midfielder Cole Bassett in the 88th minute. Frei’s shutout was his 86th of his career, which ties him for third all-time in MLS history.
Colorado showed its frustration in the 61st minute when Lucas Esteves was shown a red card for a hard tackle against Joao Paulo. The Rapids entered the match on a seven-match road unbeaten streak and three points behind the Sounders for first in MLS Western Conference standings.
Instead, the Rave Green remain first with a game in hand against Sporting Kansas City.
The performance was without striker Raul Ruidiaz who suffered a left hamstring injury in a win Wednesday at San Jose. The Peruvian is expected to join his national team for World Cup qualifying matches this week and miss Saturday’s rescheduled game against the Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Lumen Field.
Seattle announced Sunday that it also will be without Arreaga (Ecuador) and Alex Roldan (El Salvador). Nouhou (Cameroon) and Cristian Roldan (U.S.) were previously called up by their national teams for World Cup qualifying matches.
“(Raul) was in training (Saturday), and he tried to get through training,” Schmetzer said. “He took a shot and he felt still a little bit something there, so we took him off as a precaution. He’ll continue to be day-by-day and whether he goes to Peru or not, we’ll see. They have to make a decision on whether they call in an injured player. It doesn’t really matter for us because he’s still be day-by-day.”