The Seattle Sounders have earned a seat in a special box reserved for a truly beloved local sports franchise. Not because their 3-1 win over Toronto was the greatest game they’ve ever played—that might be the win over Los Angeles FC ten days prior—but because of their display of grit and class both in winning and celebrating.
For this fan at least, both are evidence of a very special team. Rallying to win after a lackluster first half showed the Sounders’ mettle, and the very special skills of Coach Brian Schmetzer. A local guy and Nathan Hale grad, at that!
It also showcased the leadership of average-size athletes in peak condition and determination. Take the four leading offensive stars—Nicolas Lodeiro, Raul Ruidiaz, Victor Rodrigues, and Cristian Roldan–and not a one is more than 5’-8” tall. None of the starting forwards or midfielders tops 6’0”.
For millions of short or average height—like me—this is such a refreshing change from the super-bulked athletes of professional football or the towering giants of basketball. Even baseball is becoming more dominated by power pitchers and power hitters.
From the start, the Sounders relied on swift canny players such as Ozzie Alonzo and Fredy Montero and it served them well. It’s what makes international soccer so much fun to watch and so competitive for so many nations. Smaller but quicker stars from Africa or Latin America can match the greater bulk of Germans and Americans.
The Sounders testify to Seattle’s role as an international city. By my count, the team claims players from 17 nations, from Sweden to Cameroon, South Korea to Panama.
Another touch that has warmed the heart of this “everyman fan” is the emphasis on youth and community development that the entire franchise supports. Youth soccer is how many older fans learned about soccer—through our kids. The connection with youngsters is seen from the moment teams enter the field, every player with a youngster in hand. That’s an MLS tradition, and I have no idea where it started, but it sets soccer apart from the other professional leagues.
You saw that again when the players brought their children onto the field to celebrate the win; the look on the face of Nico Lodeiro’s son as he saw his dad lift the trophy was for keeps. You had to think these young men are also good fathers and neighbors. Soccer is becoming more of an American sport every year, and I believe it’s not just the excitement that a good match provides. It’s also that kids of ordinary size but lots of determination can excel and imagine themselves as a Sounder or with the U.S. Women’s Team. That’s pretty special in itself.