TUKWILA – Kim Kee-hee felt the heat Friday.
The Sounders center back is new to MLS Cup hoopla and talked about the visible differences like media attention and off-field responsibilities. It’s all part of his quick study of American culture, after the South Korean’s move to Seattle in February 2018 after five seasons playing in China.
“I feel the heat from media, fans and all of those around,” Kim said through an interpreter. “I hope this is a historic year for the city of Seattle. I’m very glad that I’m part of it.”
Kim had to adapt to multiple partners on the back line in addition to improving his English to communicate better with teammates, many also learning with Spanish being their first language.
Kim, who’s made 33 starts including the postseason, opened the season with veteran Chad Marshall. When the latter retired due to injury in May, veteran Roman Torres was slotted next to Kim. But when Torres, who’s Panamanian, began a 10-game PED suspension in August, rising Ecuadorian defender Xavier Arreaga filled the position.
The Sounders had a stretch where they conceded 19 goals as Kim and Arreaga built chemistry. But the pairing helped establish a strong defensive look in upsetting Los Angeles FC for the Western Conference championship in October.
“Kim’s very consistent,” said Sounders assistant Djimi Traore, who works with the defenders. “In daily (training) we rotate all the players, they all know the role and we watch lots of tape. We make sure we’re not focused on two pairs of center backs.”
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is looking forward to refreshing her holiday music catalogue and the Sounders could help. On Friday, she made the obligatory bet with Toronto Mayor John Tory regarding which city will win Sunday’s MLS Cup.
If the Sounders prevail, Tory will ship some of his fave Canadian music like Drake, The Weeknd and Blue Rodeo to Durkan. Tory will also wear a Sounders scarf to work and light his building with Rave Green colors.
Should Toronto win, Durkan will send hit albums by Nirvana, TacoCat and Brandi Carlile to Tory. She’ll also wear the Reds’ scarf and light City Hall in red, too.
Seattle is looking to put on a good show in anticipation of being a host city for the FIFA men’s World Cup in 2026. But games can only be played at CenturyLink Field if the turf is replaced with natural grass, a requirement of the world’s soccer governing body.
“I want people to come early, take transit, stay late, enjoy the city and be loud for this team,” Durkan said after viewing Sounders training Friday. “This team has shown their grit and now the city is going to show the grit and love back.”
Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders’ general manager and president of soccer, said the decibel meter used to gauge how loud the crowd is at Seahawks games will also be used to test the level of noise at the MLS Cup on Sunday.
Seahawks fans have reached noise levels of 108 decibels. The stadium will be packed with more fans for the soccer championship at 70,000, but aside from the steady cheering in the Supporters Group section, soccer matches in Seattle are typically not loud affairs.
“It should be pretty ruckus,” Lagerwey said.
The club that wins the MLS Cup will receive $275,000 to distribute how it wishes, according to the collective-bargaining agreement between MLS and the league’s players union. The losing team receives $80,000.
MLS commissioner Don Garber addressed the state of the league to a throng of media at a downtown hotel Friday and among the questions was the status of the rescinded Iron Front flag ban. The flag, which sports a symbol widely regarded as anti-fascist, had been banned at MLS stadiums before the MLS lifted the ban Sept. 24. The league said it would address concerns of its Supporters Groups, particularly wording in its revised Fan Code of Conduct.
Led by the Emerald City Supporters, the fans were instrumental in getting the ban lifted through the end of the 2019 season.
Garber said talks are ongoing.
“Those meetings have basically been discussions about what we need to do to ensure that we can manage our ban on the Iron Front flag in ways that are going to be more effectively accepted by our supporters,” Garber said. “And positioned in a way that would allow us to have rules that would be acceptable, not just in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, but throughout our league. It’s a challenging issue.”