Monday, November 30, 2009

MLS Cup Diaries: History Witnessed

More than a few days removed and I am only beginning to wrap my head around what transpired in Seattle last Sunday. There was the beautiful setting of Qwest Field parked just south of the scenic skyline of the Emerald City. There were the masses swarming the large stadium and crowding the surrounding streets, filling the air with song. The March to the Match was a perfect prelude to such a match. And, what a match that was!

Of all the images that come to mind from that weekend, Robbie Russell spinning and then dropping to his knees after drilling home the decisive penalty kick will always be the first thing. I barely watched the ball go in before erupting into my out spastic celebration - eventually bruising my shins on the seats in front of me. Looking out over the penalty area all I remember seeing was Russell kneeling by himself fists clinched in celebration.

My view of that memorable scene was perfect. Thanks to my Sounders season ticket holding cousin, Julie, who informed me of open seats next to hers on row K in section 112. During the mid-game intermission I left my initial locaction high in section 335 and joined her family for a much closer view.

It wasn't until I made my move from the west to the east sideline that I fully appreciated the enormous sea of red in the upper deck taking over sections 338 and 337 almost entirely. They stood as one, and sang as one. They looked fantastic and sounded even better.

As mentioned over on MLS Talk, the RSL support appeared to outnumber the LA Galaxy support by at least 3 to 1. This was never more apparent than during the pre-game festivities, especially the March to the Match.

The RSL brass showed a stroke of genius setting up shop at McRory's, the closest pub to Qwest Field. Everyone who walked up Occidental Ave. to the be part of the pre-game procession had to pass the boisterous party of red-clad supporters singing in full voice. The amount of red being worn and waved was more than impressive. As you made your way toward Occidental Park the scene didn't change, it only intensified. RSL was extremely well represented in the streets.

Just before the start of the March, the Sounders marching band entered Occidental Park and entertained all those who could hear them over the RSL chants with a spirited version of Muse's 'Knights of Cydonia.' Following the song the band moved into position, played Pennywise's 'Bro Hymn', and then proceeded to lead the March down Occidental Ave.

After joining voices with the thousands of others during the walk toward the stadium, to say I was pumped was an understatement. That's why what followed is my only regret of the night.

For some reason I was drawn to Third Eye Blind playing a short concert in the parking lot outside the stadium. The music was fine, but the energy was no where near that of the chanting crowds in the streets. The disparity was so great that I actually found myself quite relaxed while passing through the gates into Qwest Field. Of course, that all changed when I saw the packed sections of RSL supporters and was immersed in their energy.

The various pockets of red brought the passion for much of the match. Although, I have to admit. There was one point in the first half where the Sounders fans broke into their call-and-response chant of, "Seattle! Sounders!" that reminded us all whose house we were in. The sheer volume, at least from where I was sitting, was inspiring.

The post-game celebrations both in Seattle and back in Utah were things that I missed. My return flight, although very affordable, landed me back to Salt Lake late Tuesday. Although, if I had the choice again I would make the same decision.

That's why when I saw the few other red-clad supporters on the flight Tuesday evening their expressions reflected that of my own. We were tired, and ready to be home. But, we had one thing in common. We had witnessed history.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

MLS Cup Diaries: To the Emerald City!

In a series of events almost as unlikely as Real Salt Lake's, I am on my way to Seattle for MLS Cup 2009. It still doesn't seem real.

Once I calmed down after Nick Rimando's stonewalling performance during the shootout against Chicago, and Ned Grabavoy's decisive penalty found net I knew I had to find a way to Seattle.

That same excitement started, and got the best of me, that fantastic final night of the regular season when RSL took care of business against Colorado, and the other needed pieces were falling into place. Real was getting the job done against the Rapids in convincing fashion, and I was making friends with random strangers sitting next to me as I excitedly announced updates from the other MLS games.

"Kansas City just scored!" I reported while practically hugging the partly puzzled person next to me.

That euphoric night was followed by three more where RSL marched right through the playoffs leaving the defending champion Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire, with Blanco and McBride, in their wake.

The funds for making such a trip were available thanks to a recently cashed savings bond given to me when I entered this world - so we won't discuss how old the bond really was. Needless to say, the girl at the bank had never seen one of it's kind before.

JetBlue's last minute offer was good enough to skip a couple full days of driving through rumors of snow storms and mountain passes. Arriving at the Salt Lake airport, more than a few passengers were seen wearing their claret-and-cobalt. Probably 40% of our initial flight to Long Beach was dressed for the game.

The packed terminal in the LBC showed more MLS supporters heading up the coast to the Emerald City for the season's final game. Red far outnumbered Galaxy blue among the masses, but the excitement was unmistakable. Fans of each side communicated with knowing glances, smiles and nods.

While walking out to our plane that would take us to Seattle I struck up a conversation with a guy wearing an LA Riot Squad shirt, where we both lamented about the poor ticket distribution to each teams supporters. We couldn't help but to shoot verbal jabs at each other through the conversation, but all remained friendly. One thing was for certain. Everything was feeling very real now.

Game on.