I want to tell you about my first match in Seattle, back in 2009.
I was playing for the Sounders. It was Seattle’s inaugural MLS game, and we were playing New York. I remember the weather, of course, because I wasn’t used to it. It was cold and damp — I’m from Colombia, where it’s humid, but always pretty warm. And it was also dark out, just really dark.
A few months earlier, when my plane had landed in Seattle after the flight from Colombia, there was snow on the ground. I was like, O.K., this isn’t going to be anything like home. I went to bed that night watching snowflakes fall outside the window of my hotel room. The city was a little quiet my first few days there — people weren’t out like in Colombia.
But on the day of our first match, Seattle was alive.
I remember, because I scored the Sounders’ first MLS goal. In the 12th minute, the ball fell to me and I did what I had been born to do: score. And then I heard the loudest sound I’ve ever heard.
Actually, that’s not true. Right after I scored, I didn’t hear anything. Nothing. I could feel the air rushing past my face as I ran toward the corner flag. I was thinking how I wanted to remember that moment forever. And I hoped that the fans would remember it, too. I got to the corner flag, looked at the crowd and then the noise hit me — like a lion’s roar. I knew then that I was going to be a part of this club’s history, forever.
It was an incredible moment. And I’m sure when I step back onto the field in Seattle this week for the first time since I left in 2012, I will think about that memory.
By far the hardest part about moving from Colombia to America — for me at least — was not speaking English … at all. I was only 21, and not speaking the language made everything more difficult: ordering food, shopping and, most of all, making friends.
I had two friends who had come to Seattle with me from Colombia. They spoke English well enough that they could translate for me, and we went everywhere together. In October of 2009, we were invited by some people we knew to a Halloween party. I remember I was still sort of shy, and since I didn’t know what to wear I didn’t dress up. We had only been there for a few minutes when I saw her — the most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my life.
I told my friends that I wanted to say hi to her.
“Fredy, you don’t know any English,” one of them said.
I told them they were going to have to translate for me. I don’t exactly remember what happened next (I think God intervened), but she gave me her number and said, “Text me.”
I downloaded a translation app to my phone a few minutes later and sent her a text:
“Hi I am Fredy ? ”
We hung out a few times over the next couple of weeks with a group of friends. They translated for me, and that helped me become comfortable around her. It’s hard enough to speak Spanish to a beautiful woman, but English … no es bueno.
My translation app helped me when we texted, but I knew that eventually I was going to have to go out with her — just the two of us. We went to an Italian restaurant in downtown Seattle. The food was really good. I remember because I ate a lot of it. I knew that, if my mouth was full, I could just listen to her and learn about her without having to speak. She must have thought I was crazy because I think I ordered enough for three people.
My friends had given me a notebook to take along that night. It had some English phrases that I could use whenever I had to speak. Stuff like, “Are you in college?” or, “How was your day?” I could maybe only understand 30% of what she was saying. I would just chew my food, nod and look back down at the notebook.
But I knew that I loved her. She was so kind and patient — and that meant a lot to me.
Just over two years later we got married, and I didn’t need to use my app to say, “I do.”
In my second year with the Sounders, the team helped me bring my entire family to Seattle from Colombia. My mom, my dad, my two sisters and my brother all moved in with me. That was so generous of the club and it’s a testament to how the Sounders take care of their players. Without the team, I’m not sure where my family would be. America gave us great opportunities we may not have had back home. Seattle will always be a special place to me because of things like that.
The city became my home. And that’s why it was so difficult for me to go back to Colombia to play for Millonarios in 2012. I had to leave my family in Seattle. Even harder was asking my wife to leave her family, too. It wasn’t an easy time, and the sacrifices that she made mean so much to me.
But ever since I was a young boy, I had always dreamed of playing in the biggest tournaments in Europe. And I knew that going back to Colombia and playing there would give me the best chance to go overseas, so I had to try. I didn’t want to give up. One season later I was playing in Portugal in the Primeira Liga, the Champions League and the Europa League, scoring goals and realizing my dream.
Better than anything I accomplished on the pitch in Portugal, though, were the two girls that my wife, Alexis, gave birth to while we were living in Lisbon. In 2016, as a family, the four of us packed up and left Portugal for a season in China. I would still go back to Seattle as often as possible, though. On one of my trips there in 2016 — on a short vacation from my Chinese Super League club, Tianjin TEDA — I got a text from Mauro Rosales, an old friend of mine. We had played together for the Sounders for a few seasons. He had heard that I was thinking about coming back to North America, and wanted to know where I was going. I told him I still had to think about it, and that I would text him back. But he texted me again and started telling me all about Vancouver, because he played for the Whitecaps in 2014 and 2015.
I was like, “What are you an agent now? Did you retire? I didn’t see that in the news!”
He just kept going on and on about how great Vancouver was, how he had an amazing relationship with the coach and the fans, and how I should consider going there. So I spoke with my wife. We both knew that if I went to Vancouver we could be close to our families again.
So last February I became a Whitecap. And everything Mauro told me is true. Vancouver is amazing. I remember that Alexis and I had been in the city for maybe 48 hours when she turned to me and said, “I can’t believe how nice everyone is here.” O.K., I know that’s a cliché about Canadians, but it’s true. I can see why Mauro loved it here — the city and club make you feel like a part of their family immediately. It’s truly one of the best organizations I’ve ever been with.
But the supporters took some time to adopt me as one of their own — and I respected that. They knew my history in Seattle, and I knew that I had to earn their love. Coach Robinson gave me a good opportunity to work hard every day in training and prove that I deserved to be here and that I could contribute.
I know that, no matter what I write here, proving that I am one of you, Caps fans, is about showing, not telling. I hope I’ve done that so far, and I promise to continue to give everything I have to this club and this city every time I wear the crest.
I just want to continue to show my God-given talent and to be part of the special team we have here this year. I’ve been on some great teams in my life, but ours is truly unique because we have such a strong identity. That’s what I love the most. No matter who is in the starting lineup, we play the same way. We don’t have a lot of the ball, but that’s fine. In soccer, it’s not about who has the ball, it’s about what you do with it when you have it. We know that when we attack we can score on anyone. Our leaders at the back — Kendall Waston, Jordan Harvey, David Ousted — and really our whole back line and midfield, give us forwards confidence to be ourselves.
The identity of our team fits with how I think about the sport, because soccer is about three things to me:
Working and developing the talent you have.
Playing for a city, a club and its supporters.
And having fun. ?
In Vancouver, we have a lot of fun when we play, and I hope our supporters see that.
We’ve been doing well so far, but we know that in MLS the skill-gap is close and anyone can beat anyone. A match can be lost during preparations for the game. That’s why we continue to push incredibly hard in our training sessions.
This week I’m preparing to play a club that holds a special place in my heart. And I pray that, maybe just a little, the club feels the same way about me. I will have lots of family and friends in the stands at CenturyLink Field, some in Sounders jerseys and some in Whitecaps jerseys. And that’s O.K. I’m proud of my time in Seattle.
It’s going to be strange to be back in the place where I began my MLS career. But as soon as the whistle blows, I’m a Whitecap. I’m not just going to Seattle to see my family, I’m going to bring three points back to Canada.
And I hope that if I score, I don’t hear anything at all again. ?