The majority of the Sounders’ Brougham End supporters group section walked out at the beginning of the second half. The exodus from an announced crowd of 37,722 was a sign of unity for an Emerald City Supporters leader who was removed during halftime for displaying an Iron Front flag for the majority of the opening half of Sunday’s match.
The flag’s imagery – three arrows pointed Southwest – is deemed political by MLS and not permitted in its stadiums as of this season. The Iron Front originated in Germany in the 1930s and is broadly accepted as anti-fascist.
It’s the third time supporters groups for the Sounders have challenged MLS and the club regarding the flag.
“This is not something that is isolated in Seattle,” said Taylor Graham, Sounders vice president of business operations and marketing, noting similar protests in Atlanta, Minnesota and Portland. “As much as we (Sounders’ front office) can have good and productive and honest and direct and sometimes tough conversations with our supporters groups, it’s equally important that the league understands why this is such an important issue and why now of all these times.”
Supporters groups from multiple MLS teams and the league’s front office are scheduled to meet Thursday in Las Vegas regarding display of the Iron Front flag. Representatives from MLS teams are not expected to attend the meeting to allow fans to freely discuss the issue with MLS.
Graham and Sounders front-office officials helped facilitate the meeting.
“I actually look forward to next week and the progress that’s going to come from having productive and honest and face-to-face conversations,” Graham said.
Seattle’s handling of the Iron Front ban in July ignited the protests. During a match against Portland at CenturyLink Field, ECS and supporters for the Timbers displayed the flag and weren’t ejected. Afterward, however, Sounders supporters were warned in a letter in which Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer equated the Iron Front with the Proud Boys – defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group — and Patriot Prayer.
The Sounders front office apologized for its wording but is upholding MLS’s ban.
“This is a circumstance that is important to solve because we want to be able to celebrate our values in a way that is consistent with what this league and what our club and what our fans believe in,” Graham said. “But we have to find that solution.”
Multiple supporters groups across MLS have joined under the social media hashtag #AUnitedFront to protest the league’s stance, demanding MLS rescind its ban on the flag, remove “political” from its Fan Code of Conduct and craft rules that support inclusion and anti-discrimination.
The Sounders supporters’ groups ECS, Gorilla FC, which identifies as Antifa, and Sounders FC Alliance, which represents all season-ticket holders, have joined Portland’s 107 Independent Supporters Trust, which bills itself as “the engine that fuels the Timbers Army and Rose City Riveters” in leading the pressure against MLS.
The archrival fans joined in a 33-minute stretch without cheering when Portland hosted Seattle in August.
The Sounders’ supporters also began wearing shirts with Iron Front symbols. Some fans also fly “Anti-fascist, Anti-Racist, Always Seattle” banners and flags, which Hanauer fought MLS to allow in 2017.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer, a paying member of ECS, saw the supporters leave Sunday and voiced his displeasure at the situation in his postgame remarks. The Sounders defeated New York 4-2.
“It’s a little bit of a sad day,” he said. “I understand the conflict and I don’t want that to effect the performance of the team. …This is an issue that I hope that both sides can find a solution because I don’t like to see that end of the stadium empty. I think we have the greatest fans, the best fan support. Maybe not numerically because of Atlanta, but this club is the relationship between the fans and the players. I don’t want that to stop.”