When Nick Bebee went to Shorecrest High School in Shoreline, soccer was not a thing. Nobody played, there wasn’t a team. Fast forward a half-century. All five of Bebee’s kids played in high school. Bebee, 67, plays every weekend with his fellow old-timers. And Sunday he was among the more than 69,000 spectators on hand to watch the Sounders win the MLS Cup on home turf.
He could only shake his head. “Never, never,” he said. “It’s unbelievable, seeing how it’s developed in the last 50 years. Unbelievable.”
It might have been unthinkable back then, but Sunday, Seattle was a town besotted with soccer. More fans packed CenturyLink Field, 69,274, than have ever been there for a Seahawks game. Nobody left early. Nobody even left at the final whistle. The capacity crowd stayed, cheering, chanting, high-fiving and exulting, through the trophy presentation, long past any action on the field. An hour after the game ended, diehards in the south end of the stadium still stood, banging drums and waving flags.
Jody Pollock, 53, rode the Sounder train in from Bonney Lake, with her husband who doesn’t even care for soccer. He got her playoff tickets for her birthday. She showed off a picture of their pet pig, Mr. Moosalova, who was at home sporting a Sounders scarf.
“I screamed my head off, this is the best birthday present ever,” Pollock said. “I’ve been a fan since I was little, when the Sounders were first here. I never thought I’d witness anything like this.”
Sandra Chow and her husband just bought season tickets for the first time, for next season. It was the only way they could be sure they’d get tickets to the final Sunday.
“It’s super exciting, I’m just so proud to be a Seattleite,” Chow said. Her son played high school soccer with Jordan Morris at Mercer Island High School. “We came to cheer on Jordan.”
From early Sunday morning, Seattle was a Sounders town.
At 8:45, on a D-line bus from Ballard spackled with Rave Green jerseys, Henry Chipman was confident.
“I’m so excited for this match, we’ve played really well this season,” Chipman, 26, said. “And the sold-out crowd, it’s going to be a huge home-field advantage.”
It was festive early in Occidental Square. At 9 a.m., three hours before kickoff, the plaza was crowded. Bars and restaurants had lines out the door. Half an hour later the square was jammed to capacity.
Doug Sackett, 59, was at the Sounders’ first match, in 1974 against the Denver Dynamos at Memorial Stadium, when they launched as a member of the North American Soccer League. Sunday, he wore a homemade Sounders cape and painted his face and beard emerald green. He’d flown up from Southern California, where he lives now as a middle-school teacher.
“I always said, if the Sounders play the final in Seattle, I’d be there even on my deathbed,” Sackett said. “When we’re on a roll, we just don’t lose,” he said, predicting a 3-0 victory.
But Nancy Volk, 51, also a fan from the NASL days, nailed it. So did Seahawks quarterback and Sounders co-owner Russell Wilson.
“3-1,” she predicted, milling around on Occidental Avenue, as Macklemore played in the square behind. “I’m nervous and excited and so happy to see so many people here.”
Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready shredded an instrumental, electric national anthem. Sounders fans unveiled a tifo display that covered the entire stadium, alternating bands of blue and rave green, with a three-section wide banner of Stefan Frei and friends planting a Sounders flag.
The stadium boomed. The entire lower bowl stood.
But the first half was nervy, as Toronto dominated possession. Neither team managed a goal.
Caleb and Keeley Olson stretched their legs at halftime.
“I’ve got a baby on the way,” Keeley said. “So I’m trying not to stress out. But I’m stressed.”
“We did not play our game,” said Tammi Clugston, a teacher from Edmonds who had some advice for coach Brian Schmetzer at halftime. “We need to be more aggressive, Brian’s going to have to rip them a new one.”
And then there was a breakthrough. Right back Kelvin Leerdam ripped a low shot into the corner, deflecting off Toronto FC players for a goal, right in front of the club’s most raucous supporters.
CenturyLink became a wall of noise, 30 seconds, unabated.
“I was still a little nervous,” said Greg Holmes, who’s been going to games since 2009. “The second goal was awesome, it took the pressure off.”
The second goal came from substitute Victor Rodriguez, who’d been on the field for just 15 minutes, but would become the MLS Cup MVP.
The Sounders would tack on a third. Toronto would claw one back. But it was academic.
Eli Lara, 31, has been a season-ticket holder since the inaugural 2009 MLS season in Seattle. He wore a Sigi Schmid jersey Sunday.
“It’s like a culmination of the franchise,” he said of the championship. “It’s a dream, I can’t even describe it. It’s a dream come true.”