A different type of hangover will swirl around Sounders FC fans Sunday morning.
Weekend plans were centered on watching their Major League Soccer club play a road match against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday. Members and friends of the Sounders’ official Supporter Groups — Emerald City Supporters, Gorilla FC, Eastside Supporters and North End Faithful — would have gathered at pubs from Bellingham to Olympia, Bremerton to Leavenworth to cheer and socialize.
In a Green Lake bar, ECS members were to practice a new song written in Portuguese for Joao Paulo, the Designated Player signed from Brazil in January, and maybe plan the next tifo display at CenturyLink Field, a hush-hush task specifically executed by ECS and unveiled in the south-end sections of the stadium after the national anthem.
But everything was canceled.
MLS announced Thursday the suspension of its season for 30 days in joining a nationwide effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Last week Gov. Jay Inslee also banned gatherings of 250 people or more and health authorities suggested “social distancing.”
The combination broke the connection the tight-knit Sounders community would normally seek in each other during a crisis. A complex letdown is settling among fans as they figure out how to support each other and their team, while also filling the void of not having games to attend or watch.
“There’s going to be an emptiness as we move forward,” said Cameron Collins, president of Gorilla FC and the Sounders Alliance Council, which encompasses all season-ticket holders. “Especially the camaraderie that you have with other fans and supporter groups. Some of that work goes on. We’re still going to have to figure out ways to connect with fans using the electronic means we have.”
As the MLS news broke Thursday, an ECS member used the hashtag “#onlinehappyhour” on Twitter to ask her followers — mainly fellow Sounders fans — what they were snacking/drinking (alcohol not required) and what song they were listening to and being sure to wash their hands.
Others said they used the social-media site to check in with section mates they know are in vulnerable brackets for the virus, either due to their immune system or age or as cancer survivors, to be certain they’re safe. There was also help shared online to cancel flights and hotels to the Sounders’ three postponed road matches — Houston, Nashville, and New England. Tickets for the games will be honored by the clubs or reimbursed if requested.
Gorilla FC, which was already working with the Sounders to build tiny houses for the homeless in August, is contemplating ways for their members to volunteer to help those impacted by local school and activity shutdowns. ECS, which has approximately 12 subgroups, still plans to hold a karaoke night later this month and is asking members to still support their sponsoring pubs.
“The right decision has been made, which is we shouldn’t have 30-40,000 people at a stadium at this point,” ECS co-president Tom Biro said. “We support the Sounders any way we can and in this case it’s support by making sure that no one gets sick and we’re there when they’re ready to play in a few weeks or whenever it is.”
This moment in Sounders fandom is a stark contrast to just five months ago when a CenturyLink-record crowd of 69,274 gathered to see the club win the MLS Cup.
Despite the first confirmed case of coronavirus being found in Washington in January, the Sounders (1-0-1) played their MLS opener at home March 1 before 40,126 fans. As the concerns regarding the pandemic grew, an announced attendance of 33,080 witnessed the draw against the Columbus Crew on March 7, the last match at CenturyLink.
If the suspension time frame holds, the Sounders could play their April 18 home match against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
For many soccer fans, the ripple effect of leagues and federations announcing the suspension or cancellation of their seasons and tournaments was met with a disapproval of taking so long to shut down.
“It’s a natural human-nature to say, ‘Oh, well I don’t have it and I don’t know anyone who has it, I’ll be fine,’” one ECS member said, requesting anonymity. “But the messaging is getting more out there that that’s not the point. The point is it can still be spread even if you don’t know. Listening to that more and more helps, but you know there would still be people at games if they let people go. You have to have some (league) leadership say no one is going so we can minimize this thing.”
As of Saturday afternoon in Washington, there were 642 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 40 deaths, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
CBS Sports reported Saturday morning 11 pro-soccer players, one coach and one owner have tested positive for COVID-19. None are associated with MLS.
Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders general manager and president of soccer, said Wednesday that no one in the organization showed signs of the virus.
Crist Jarrett, a South Florida resident who is the president of Tropic Sound, an ECS affiliate that represents the region, including the Caribbean. He had been looking forward to watching Saturday’s match on a pub’s 120-inch screen as an escape.
“The Sounders are my stress-relief, my happy spot,” said Jarrett, who’s followed the club since its American Professional Soccer League days in the 1990s. “(With Tropic Sound) we’ll still get together and work on some tifos for the Miami game in August because we want to represent hard if they play. But for the sake of the fans, players, coaching staff and all the people that work there (stadiums), we totally understand the shutdown. This is not something you want to mess with.”