By John Boyle Herald Writer
SEATTLE — When Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid walked through the tunnel into a filled-to-the-rafters CenturyLink Field with Brian Schmetzer, an emotional Schmid shared an observation with his assistant coach.
“I said to Schmetz, ‘This is what heaven must be like,’” Schmid said. “In my imagination of heaven, this is it — packed house, beating Portland by three, fans going crazy, it can’t get better than that.”
So, as Schmid suggested, is this heaven? To paraphrase the final scene of the movie “Field of Dreams,” no Sigi, it’s soccer in Seattle.
Seattle, the team that continues to reset the standard of soccer success in America, had another night to remember Sunday as 66,452 filled the stadium for a regular-season game against the Portland Timbers. And fortunately for those fans, who made up the largest crowd in franchise history for a league game, and second largest stand-alone crowd for a regular season game in league history, the home team was as impressive as the crowd. Seattle trounced the Portland Timbers 3-0 on goals from forwards Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero, as well as a Portland own goal that opened the scoring.
After the game, Schmid was once again emotional when he reflected on not just Sunday’s big crowd,
but what his three-plus years of watching the game grow in Seattle has meant to him.
“It was a little bit emotional for me,” Schmid said with his voice cracking when asked about a huge pregame display that featured his likeness. “But I was really proud of that. This club has been the best thing that’s happened to me in soccer. I’m thankful every day that I’m here.”
A big day in the history of Seattle soccer began with beloved former Sounder Roger Levesque receiving an honorary golden scarf, then introducing the starting lineup from the field. Levesque, who played with the USL version of the Sounders dating back to 2003 and retired earlier this season, said things didn’t quite go according to plan.
“I think I screwed up absolutely everything during the scarf ceremony,” he said. “I stepped on the podium when I wasn’t supposed to, I didn’t know when I was supposed to turn. But I gathered myself and had a really good time.”
A really good time was also had by Levesque’s former teammates, as well as huge crowd that was bigger than those at four NFL games and well as all five Pac-12 football games played last week.
Johnson, who scored off a Brad Evans cross in the 28th minute to give Seattle a 2-0 lead, said the crowd compared to those he has played in front of at such historic venues as Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, and Estadio Azteca, the hostile home of the Mexican National Team.
“It doesn’t get any better than the atmosphere tonight,” said Johnson, whose goal gave him a team-leading 14 this season. “It goes to show you how far soccer has come in our country. We’ve got the best fans in the MLS. If you can’t be pumped and jacked for this game, something’s wrong with you.”
Also pumped and jacked about this game — and when did that Pete Carroll phrase cross over into soccer, by the way? — was MLS commissioner Don Garber, who decided Saturday night to hop on a Sunday morning flight from New York to Seattle to see the spectacle.
“I’m not even here on official duties tonight,” Garber said. “I’m just here to experience it. I knew this would be a historic event leading into this weekend. … It’s just another one of these great moments.
We’ve been saying that a lot lately, but it’s really true. It’s a great moment for the sport. Very exciting.”
Of course a big crowd would have been a lot less meaningful without a positive result, and Sounders FC came out with its foot on the gas and rarely let up to send its fans home happy. Seattle jumped ahead in the 25th minute when Portland’s Mamadou Danso scored an own goal, redirecting an Adam Johansson cross that was intended for Montero. Johnson’s goal came moments later, then Montero nearly made it 3-0 in the 30th minute with a curling shot that was saved off the post by a diving Donovan Ricketts. Montero would get his goal in the second half, sliding to put in a loose ball into the net in the 62nd minute.
“I feel so good,” said Montero, who with Levesque retired is probably the new public enemy No. 1 to Portland fans. “Scoring goals against Portland, that’s the feeling you always want to have.”
A Sounders FC victory also means the Cascadia Cup will stay in Seattle, at least for now. With the win, Seattle moved ahead of Portland in the standings for the Cascadia Cup — the trophy awarded to the team with the best record in games between rivals Seattle, Portland and Vancouver — but the Timbers can take the trophy from Seattle, last year’s Cascadia winner, with a win in Vancouver later this month.
“Obviously the Cascadia Cup is one of our goals,” Johnson said. “We want to win as many as much silverware as we can this year.”
If the Timbers tie or lose in Vancouver, a very possible outcome considering Portland hasn’t won on the road this season, Seattle would keep the Cascadia Cup despite playing four of the six games in the series on the road this season.
“Anything short of a victory gives the Cascadia Cup back to us, and in a year where we had four of the six games on the road and they had four of the six games at home, I think that’s a big tribute to our team,” Schmid said.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.