If there’s one thing the Seattle sports fan should have learned by now, it’s to savor these rare championship forays.
TORONTO – If there’s one thing the Seattle sports fan should have learned by now, it’s to savor these rare championship forays.
Sometimes you can see them developing with clarity and a sense of near inevitability, as when the Seahawks rampaged to the Super Bowl title after the 2013 season. And sometimes they emerge unexpectedly, a gift from the heavens, as this Sounders march to Saturday’s MLS Cup has been.
You can say no one saw it coming, and that would be half-right. Truth is, few even conceived it in the realm of wishful thinking, though Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said that even in the darkest times, the club still believed it had the nucleus of success.
“We looked at it honestly and said the hardest thing to do might be to get in the playoffs,’’ he said. “If we can get there, we have a team that’s built to win right now. Maybe we’ve got a chance at this thing.”
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And now they’re here, playing Toronto FC on Saturday at BMO Field. And now they have a chance, an opportunity to win the hardware and touch the heartstrings, which has been an exceedingly rare state of reality for Seattle’s pro teams.
There was the Seattle Metropolitans winning the Stanley Cup in 1917, more mythology than anything; anyone who remembers that feat is gone, as was the team itself seven years later.
The Sonics won the NBA title in 1979, but they, too, have disappeared, stolen off to Oklahoma City eight years ago.
The Storm has two WNBA titles, and the Seahawks ruled the NFL in 2014, and there you have the extent of the city’s pro championship pedigree.
Even the painful near misses that haunt every city have been relatively infrequent — the Sonics losing in the NBA Finals in 1978 and 1996 (and losing in the first round to a No. 8 seed in 1994, when they had the league’s best record), the Seahawks losing Super Bowls to the Steelers and Patriots, the Mariners losing in the ALCS in the magical 1995 season and after a record-breaking 116 wins in 2001.
So, yes, enjoy the moment, because they are precious and fleeting and, if the Sounders capture the title in a match that most experts rate as virtually even, worthy of robust celebration.
Certainly, it would be feted by a local soccer fan base that has proved itself to be both loyal and passionate, predating this incarnation of the Sounders but peaking upon their arrival as an MLS expansion franchise in late 2007.
“I think that’s all they talk about, the fans,’’ defender Tyrone Mears said when asked what a championship would mean to Seattle. “We’ve got 50, sometimes 60 thousand to our place. They’re passionate about soccer, and they want an MLS Cup. They know Portland has got one, so it’s time for the Sounders to get one.”
The Sounders were loose and exuberant Friday as they ran through their final practice session before Saturday’s match. At one point, during a spirited scrimmage, a player ostentatiously feigned a flop in the penalty area, drawing much merriment from the rest of the squad.
Poignantly, while this was happening on one end of the field, Clint Dempsey worked out alone on the other, a solitary figure on the periphery, literally and figuratively, as the franchise nears its peak moment. His stunning removal from the roster because of an irregular heartbeat was one of many obstacles that seemed to derail Seattle’s title hopes.
Yet Lagerwey bristles at the notion the Sounders merely got lucky and are riding some sort of fate train into the Cup final.
“We made really concrete, radical changes,’’ he countered.
Yet the Sounders will tell you Dempsey has a significant part in this success, and that deposed coach Sigi Schmid — also here in Toronto in a commentating role — does as well. In fact, coach Brian Schmetzer bristled Wednesday when he was asked, inelegantly, if he or Schmid had a bigger part in Seattle’s rise to the finals.
Schmetzer began his answer by saying that when he sees Schmid, he’s going to give him a big hug. He said the two have maintained a good relationship, going out for coffee when the Sounders were in Los Angeles, and that Schmid doesn’t hold any grudges against his former staff.
“The emotional side and the human-element side is when Sig gets fired, I get the job,’’ he said. “Someone has to get fired for me to get my opportunity. So that’s the story that those first couple of days, yeah, you think about, and it’s definitely a bummer.
“But at the end of the day, he understands this business, I understand this business, and there will be a day when I might not have a job, and you just deal with it.”
Lagerwey believes a Cup victory would be “transformational” for the Sounders franchise, which has a long-term goal of selling out CenturyLink Field on a consistent basis. And as popular as they’ve been, a league title would be a huge, and probably necessary, boost to propel them toward that.
“One thing we learned, even for the Seahawks, Super Bowls matter,’’ he said. “They were put on the map. They weren’t selling out games until they won the Super Bowl.”
Those are the business stakes on Saturday. On an emotional level, the stakes are more personal and profound to someone like Brad Evans, who has been there every step of this Sounders journey, as have fellow original players Zach Scott and Osvaldo Alonso, not to mention Schmetzer, owner Adrian Hanauer and a handful of others.
“If we win, there will be tears,’’ Evans said. “If we lose, there will be tears also. So close. You never know when you’ll find yourself in this position, so it’s one you’ve got to take advantage of. If we happen to lift the trophy, it will be a momentous occasion.”