SEATTLE – It had been more than 400 days since fans were allowed at Lumen Field to cheer on the Sounders.
So having to wait an extra 45 minutes to be truly welcomed back? That was more than doable.
Friday night, Seattle scored all four of its goals in the second half to beat Minnesota 4-0. COVID restrictions prevented spectators from filling up the stadium, but that didn’t stop the Sounders from filling up the stat sheet.
As far as season debuts go, this was textbook hope-becomes-reality. A spectacular goal here, a brilliant save there – not to mention a healthy helping of nostalgia. Although the 7,042 people in the stands couldn’t generate the decibels the stadium is known for, they still did their part to help the Sounders bring the noise.
“The atmosphere was great. We felt their presence,” Sounders midfielder João Paulo said through an interpreter. “They were on our side and that helped with the result.”
The Sounders’ last meeting with the Loons might have been the greatest game in the club’s history. Down 2-0 in the 75th minute of the Western Conference final, Seattle scored three unanswered goals – including one in extra time – to advance to the MLS Cup.
Friday didn’t have the drama of that classic match, but it didn’t mean the Sounders failed to entertain.
The opening act featured a score that erased the memory of that first-half dud. Forty-nine minutes into the game, the ball ricocheted out to João Paulo, who volleyed it to himself, then rocketed a shot from the top of the box that found the back of the net.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer called the goal a “technical masterpiece” as he marveled during his postgame news conference. But it was hardly an unaccompanied highlight.
There was midfielder Cristian Roldan saving a Minnesota goal with his foot after a shot slid past Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei. There was Frei denying the equalizer with a diving save in the 68th minute. And there were three goals from Sounders stars from the past and present that sent the fans home with grins that will last through the weekend.
The first came via forward Raul Ruidiaz on a picturesque pass from Will Bruin in the 70th minute. Ruidiaz added another goal 3 minutes later on an equally sound pass from Roldan. Then, as a curtain call, the Sounders’ all-time leading scorer, Fredy Montero, punched in a goal off an assist from Alex Roldan in the 86th minute.
A reporter asked Schmetzer to name his favorite goal of the match.
“All of the goals were very, very high quality. But I do have a soft spot in my heart for Fredy Montero,” Schmetzer said of the Colombian, who scored the franchise’s first MLS goal. “Seeing him score that goal, that was a just reward for him coming back to Seattle.”
It’s hard, if not downright impossible to gauge how successful a team will be based on its first game of the season. For the Sounders, it’s been impossible to tell how they might fare based on the first five, 10 or 15 games of the season.
Their MLS Cup runs have almost always come in the wake of a first-half plunge that made a playoff berth seem unfeasible. Still, in terms of auspicious starts, it’s hard to top what took place on the pitch Friday night.
In time, as vaccinations increase and COVID cases (one hopes) decrease, Lumen Field will up its attendance figures. Before the season is complete, we could see a full stadium screaming for this team. But Friday, after a yearlong wait for in-person support, the Sounders didn’t care about the size of the crowd as much as that there was a crowd at all.
“Seven thousand, 70,000,” it was great to have fans in the building,” Schmetzer said.
And his team made them feel appreciated.
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