A brief recollection of 2006 Sounders FC: My how far we've come
My very first social circle upon moving to Seattle was a group of girls who played collegiate soccer for Seattle Pacific University. We befriended each other living in the same neighborhood having a lot of many common interests outside of soccer, but they were ultimately my gateway into my discovery and appreciation of the sport in Seattle. We'd spend Friday and Saturday nights watching collegiate soccer outdoors, and when the Falcons weren't playing and we were all free, we'd hit Sounders games.
That was in 2006, when the Sounders were still in the United Soccer League (USL), with the franchise under the ownership of Adrian Hanauer. Hanauer is now a majority owner of Sounders as a Major League Soccer franchise. This particular season, I was told, had nowhere near as many high points as the year prior, when they claimed the championship in penalties after drawing with the Richmond Kickers 1-1 at Qwest field. If I'm giving you the Reader's Digest version and naming only a few examples, they began the season without a starting goalkeeper after Preston Burpo was signed to Chivas USA, along with their winger Brent Whitfield. Defensive Player of the Year Taylor Graham (who inevitably ended up returning to Sounders and playing with the team throughout their second year in MLS) was sent to New York Red Bull, and to top it off, they were unable to find any suitable replacements for the newly departed. They were also threatened with the possibility of being relocated across the water to Kitsap, a smaller city located just west on the Olympic Peninsula.
Needless to say, the season that exposed me to the beast which has become soccer in Seattle didn't have the most promising start, but I didn't really care. They were our professional men's team, and that's all that mattered to me. The players were friendly and involved with the community, and they were fun to watch. The games were played at Qwest field, which drew between 500 and 1500 fans at any given match; usually more for the bigger and more well known opponents.
The 2006 season also handed me my first experience witnessing the Sounders/Timbers rivalry in person. After knocking Portland out of the playoffs in the 2005 season, Seattle defeated the Timbers 3-1 at Qwest Field on July 22, 2006, in a match that drew eight yellow cards and one red. It was hard not to notice that the rivalry on the field was just as heavy as the one in the stands. I hadn't given it a second thought that this rivalry and fan participation could be amplified to what it is today. The attendance for that match was 2,993. Read the full match report from that game here.
Any Sounders or Timbers fan can fill you in with the details of games and rivalries in between then and now. With the expansion of MLS and welcoming Seattle in 2009, followed by Timbers and Vancouver in years to follow, the Cascadia rivalry has been amplified to a completely different level - something I had ever imagined would ever happen, and in such a short amount of time. Seattle's acceptance of the Sounders becoming a Major League franchise was incredible. Thousands of new soccer fans were born. Going from almost 3,000 at a soccer game to 40,000 only three years later? I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Thankfully, the threat of relocation in 2006 was thwarted when the team renewed its deal with Qwest field at the end of the year.
Seven years later, Sounders have players who've danced on the big stage overseas for teams known and respected on a global scale. They've represented their country in World Cup qualifiers, with a very likely chance to be headed to those games in Brazil next year. Clint Dempsey's return to MLS and signing with Seattle has set a new record topping David Beckham's impact. I'm remembering that game on July 22nd, when Century Link Field was Qwest Field. When 2,993 fans seemed like a large number for soccer in Seattle. I remember sitting in the stands with my friends feeling the excitement, and only getting my first taste of a real soccer rivalry. We'd head down to Kells Irish Pub in Pike Place Market post game and celebrate wins and losses with the team which never turned down a chance to mingle with its fans. (They still don't, for the record).
Now? I'm living in Los Angeles, likely watching the match from my favorite neighborhood soccer pub, wishing I was there to see one of the best rivalries in Major League Soccer in front of yet another record crowd which gets bigger every year. For those who have paid money or put in the work to get a chance to be there in person - I'm delighted you're able to experience this incredible moment for sports, and soccer, in America.