SEATTLE – For the sporting fans of Seattle, this is a rare and precious opportunity Sunday.
As in, extremely rare, and exceedingly precious.
The Sounders host Toronto FC in MLS Cup at CenturyLink Field and thus would, if successful, celebrate their league’s championship on home soil, in front of 70,000 or so rapturous fans.
The Sonics didn’t get that chance when they won their sole NBA title in 1979. The clinching victory over the Washington Bullets was achieved in Landover, Maryland.
The Seahawks didn’t get that chance when they won their sole NFL title in 2014. Their Super Bowl rout over the Denver Broncos was played in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
The Huskies didn’t get that chance when they won a share of the national title in college football in 1991. The victory that completed their 12-0 season and earned them the No. 1 spot in the coaches poll (but not The Associated Press poll) was attained over Michigan at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
And the Sounders didn’t get that chance when they grabbed the MLS title in 2016 – against these same Reds – on Roman Torres’ decisive penalty kick after going the entire match without a shot on goal. That match was played in frigid BMO Field in Toronto, as was the case the following year when the same teams met in MLS Cup, with the outcome reversed.
So my advice is to savor every bit of it – the buildup to Sunday, with all the talk about a burgeoning rivalry between Seattle and Toronto, who are meeting in the finals for the third time in the past four years; the match itself, which figures to be an electric affair at a stadium where the audible influence of a rabid fan base has long been palpable; and especially the euphoric aftermath, if the Sounders prevail.
No need to wait for the parade this time. For those lucky enough to score the sacred tickets, the celebration would begin in real time.
That is not entirely unprecedented in Seattle, of course. There are, no doubt, a handful of centenarians in the region who were alive when the Seattle Metropolitans defeated the Montreal Canadiens 9-1 at the long-departed Seattle Arena, located at Fifth Avenue and University Street, on March 26, 1917, to clinch the Stanley Cup. But as that was 102 years ago, their victory cry was literally a cry, or perhaps the more sophisticated, “Goo goo gaga.”
Of far more recent vintage, the Seattle Storm have won three WNBA titles. But only the first one, on Oct. 12, 2004, was clinched in Seattle as the Storm defeated the Connecticut Sun 74-60 before 17,072 Storm fans at KeyArena. Their 2010 title was wrapped up in Atlanta, and their 2018 crown at the Washington Mystics’ arena in Fairfax, Virginia.
If you want to get a feel for the rhapsodic potential of a home game with (almost) everything on the line, think back to the Mariners’ “Refuse to Lose” run in 1995 – particularly the one-game playoff against the Angels and winner-take-all Game 5 against the Yankees, both amid pandemonium at the Kingdome.
Or, more recently, to the Seahawks’ trio of NFC title games at CenturyLink Field, during the 2005, 2013 and 2014 seasons. So great was the galvanizing effect of the sold-out crowd – helping to produce Seattle victories and a berth in the Super Bowl each time – that the team has placed a heavy emphasis on regaining home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Such was the rallying cry of Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer after the back-to-back finals in Toronto. Following their 2-0 MLS Cup loss in 2017, Schmetzer said he felt the Reds had been motivated by their agonizing loss to Seattle the previous year.
“I told my group, ‘Look, we can use this the same way, because we’re still a good team, and we can go out and compile a few more wins and maybe host an MLS final in front of our Seattle fans,’ ” Schmetzer said.
And it happened in the unlikeliest of fashions, via a confluence of long-shot events – Seattle going on the road to upset heavily favored LAFC, and Toronto knocking off both NYCFC and Atlanta to ensure that the Sounders were the highest seed remaining.
“It’s a bit strange for us to end up at home now in this final. But a ridiculous opportunity,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said Thursday at a news conference.
“Even though we were able to go to LA and they went to Atlanta, I still think the advantage has to be a home-field advantage. There has to be something there. We’re expecting 69-something-thousand people, and expecting a majority to be rooting for us. So we have to make that count.”
Mercer Island’s Jordan Morris, the MLS Comeback Player of the Year, said it would be a “dream come true” to win the title in Seattle.
“Obviously, we got one before and that was super special,” Morris said. “But to win one here in front of our fans – they deserve it, and this city deserves it.”
It doesn’t happen every day, or every year, or every decade. But it could happen Sunday.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.