The Sounders’ fans were burying me under an avalanche of noise at CenturyLink Field. I looked down at my goalie gloves and then gazed up into the crowd. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The entire stadium was one seething mass of green, blue and gray. Thirty-two thousand, six hundred and eighty fans were on their feet, saluting their team. Down on the pitch, where I was playing in goal for Toronto FC, I was at the center of the mayhem. There was so much noise.
My ears began to ring.
Welcome to Seattle.
Want to know the worst part? Two of the 32,680 were my mom and my brother, both wearing red and white Toronto gear. They stuck out like sore thumbs. To make matters worse, my brother was recovering from a torn ACL and was hobbling around on crutches. In most places, that would have been prime taunting material.
But after the game, I was surprised when my mom and my brother told me that the Sounders’ fans were, by far, the friendliest fans they had ever met. They helped with directions, offered to take photos and even lent a hand to my brother.
I was just a rookie. This was my introduction to Seattle Sounders fans. I was impressed by the overwhelming air of positivity in the stadium, but when I heard about the way the fans treated my family … well, I was blown away.
In December 2013 I was traded to this amazing club. In three years in a Sounders uniform, I’ve learned that our fans are such an important part of how we play soccer in Seattle. I think it’s time to recognize that.
Fog covered the ground. It was January 25 in Seattle, my first day of training with the club and the beginning of the 2014 season. Given the weather, I thought 30 or so fans would show up for a couple of autographs.
Oh, my gosh. I was so wrong. Hundreds of Emerald City Supporters — members of the largest Sounders supporters group — were lined up around the pitch to sing and chant. Rows and rows of fans held posters, waved flags and unfurled giant tifos that cover entire sections of the crowd.
I thought, What the heck is going on here? Just don’t embarrass yourself, Stefan. After I made a couple of saves, the crowd chanted, “Stefan! Stefan! Stefan!” Suddenly, my nerves gave way to excitement. I got goosebumps.
I realized that there was something different about this club.
I couldn’t wait to walk out onto the CenturyLink Field as the starting goalkeeper for the Seattle Sounders. Playing for fans like these is something you dream about as a kid.
There’s a unique sound when the Emerald City Supporters welcome their team to the pitch. It’s a noise with a positive purpose.
Standing in the tunnel, I inhale deeply and smell gunpowder from the fireworks. Bursts of color fill the air and the stadium crackles with energy. I catch a glimpse of the stands, where the fans unveil tifos and flags. They flutter around the lower part of the stadium like blue and green waves.
Then, eerie music echoes throughout the stadium. We all know what time it is.
In Seattle, this has become a tradition. As I walk out of the tunnel, I’m greeted by 40,000-plus fans with raised arms and open hands.
Then, two deep drumbeats cue a collective clap.
Then the beats come faster.
The claps get louder.
Boom. Boom. Clap.
Boom. Boom. Clap.
Boom. Boom. Clap.
The energy is almost tangible now, flowing onto the pitch. At the end, the crowd explodes:
SOUNDERS! Boom, boom, boom. SOUNDERS! Boom, boom, boom.
Moments before kickoff, the crowd sings the national anthem. It’s incredibly beautiful when thousands of voices sing together. On the field, members of the armed forces unfurl an American flag that stretches over the entire pitch. It’s quite moving.
Then, when the referee blows his whistle, it’s 90 minutes of noise from a crowd that has led the MLS in attendance every year since it joined the league. As players, we feed off of that.
One particular moment sticks out as the loudest I’ve ever heard CenturyLink Field. The day was August 10, 2014. We had lost two games in a row and desperately needed a win against the Houston Dynamo to get out of our slump. But with the score tied 0—0 in the 24th minute, we got called for a handball in the box. Penalty.
My penalty kick record in the MLS isn’t very good. Actually, I’ll be honest with you — it’s pretty darn bad. When Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis placed the ball down on the penalty spot, I knew that with a goal, Houston would take command of the game. I felt like our season was on the line.
I took a deep breath and committed to dive to my left. It was a total guess.
Pandemonium. I could literally feel the stadium shaking. I heard the crowd screaming my name, but don’t remember much else. I think the sound of the Emerald City Supporters made me black out.
The best part? We ended up winning the game 2–0.
That was a big moment, but our matches with the Portland Timbers are equally as intense. In this league, there’s a need for genuine rivalries. This one is truly hostile. The hatred runs deep. It goes all the way back to the North American Soccer League days.
The Timbers Army travels as much as any fanbase in the league. Their passion completes the rivalry … and they’re almost as loud as the Emerald City Supporters. I also want to remind everyone that our record is 7-3-4 against the Timbers. Can’t wait until we meet those boys on July 17!
Oftentimes, when I’m enjoying one of this city’s wonderful restaurants or walking around one of its great neighborhoods, I’ll be stopped by some of the fans. They’ll say, “Hey, Stefan, great game this weekend!” Or, “Stefan, I love your dogs!” (Really, my dogs are celebrities in this city. Check out my Twitter, @Stefan24Frei and #WrinkleWednesday) I appreciate it so much. I’m a part of the fans’ community as much as they’re a part of mine.
Oh, and by the way, the team has been pretty good over the years. A year ago, we reached the Western Conference semifinals and the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. But the fans want more. The team wants more. We’ve gone to the conference finals a couple of times, but we’re still pushing for the MLS Cup. Each and every day my teammates and I are working towards that.
I can’t really speak to the atmosphere in soccer stadiums in Europe, but I suspect our fans are some of the best in the world. If you’re any type of soccer fan, seeing the Seattle Sounders in person should definitely be on your bucket list.
Without the fans, we wouldn’t be a special team. We’d just be average — and Seattle, we are anything but average. Here’s to you. Thank you for your passion. I promise you that we’ll always work hard to make you proud. We know that you already do the same for us.
Stefan Frei, Sounders FC and Delta Air Lines have teamed up on “The Fabric of Sounders FC,” a design project uniting community, art and sport. Fans can get involved at Soundersfc.com/fabricofsfc.