“ W e want the ball, and we’re gonna score.”
Do you remember that? Of course you do. Every Seahawks fan knows those words all too well.
A couple of weeks before that cold, fateful NFC wild-card game in Green Bay, I had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. So the 2003 Seahawks were a good distraction for me. I was watching the game upstairs in my room, all alone. I was too nervous to be around anyone.
“Intercepted! Back the other way … the Green Bay Packers advance.”
I wept. Seriously, I wept. I wept like only a nine-year-old boy who had just gotten his heart broken by Matt Hasselbeck can.
My dad came running up to my room, “Jordan! Jordan! It’s O.K. I know the diabetes is hard, but we’re going to get through this together.”
“No, dad! The Seahawks are out!”
I threw my head back into the tear-soaked pillow.
That’s how much Seattle sports meant to me then. They were my life. If I was playing basketball in the driveway, I was Shawn Kemp. If I was taking batting practice, I’d turn my hat around, wiggle my bat a little and take a big, healthy swing — just like Junior.
But when I would play soccer against my brother in the backyard, we didn’t have a Seattle hero to look up to. We would pretend we were Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey. Or if there had been some European soccer on TV that week, we were David Beckham or Steven Gerrard.
For all the times I lifted the World Series trophy and Larry O’Brien trophy in my driveway, I never once imagined playing soccer for a Seattle team.
Like a lot of kids these days, I played three or four sports growing up, but my older brother Chris liked soccer, so naturally I did too. If he had chosen football, maybe I’d be on a different path. But I was a loyal younger brother, and I’m thankful we stuck with soccer.
We grew up on Mercer Island, just to the east of downtown Seattle. I spent many wet, uniquely Pacific Northwest–style nights under the floodlights at Preston Park, playing hours of soccer.
I loved almost every second of it.
The only part that sucked was having to check my blood sugar levels every couple of hours. Getting pulled aside during warm ups to have my finger poked wasn’t fun. It was tough, physically, to play with type one diabetes. I’d run out of energy before everyone else, and I’d feel light-headed after long sprints. But, mentally, it was also a challenge. I am being held back because of this? Will I be able to run as much when I get older? Can I play soccer forever?
But like I said, sports were always the perfect distraction. And just a year after Hasselbeck and the Seahawks broke my heart again in Super Bowl XL against the Steelers, the Sounders joined the MLS.
I should probably mention that my dad has worked for the Sounders for a long time. He’s their chief medical director. So I’ve been following the team every step of the way, and of course I was there for its inaugural game.
Thursday, March 19, 2009. It was cloudy and damp — a perfect Seattle day.
My dad had been fortunate enough to get a box for us that day, and our whole family went. I remember walking into the stadium and just thinking, All these people are here for soccer? I kept asking my mom, “How come so many people knew about the Sounders?” Fourteen-year-old me couldn’t comprehend that this many people wanted to see our team play soccer.
We walked up to our box, and the first thing I did was run towards the front so I could see the field. For years I had watched the Seahawks play on the same field in front of huge crowds in this unbelievable atmosphere. And now the Sounders had a chance to make Seattle fall in love with a new team.
Fredy Montero scored the club’s first ever MLS goal. One touch, then a powerful drive with his right foot into the side-netting. But the one thing I remember most about that goal was the noise that followed … it was like nothing I had ever heard in my life. Thirty thousand fans screaming as loud as they could — Seattle was ready for this club.
Right then, I decided.
I was going to play for the Sounders one day. I was going to score a goal on that field.
From that point on my journey had a destination.
In my senior year of high school I played with the Sounders’ academy, which was my first taste of pro soccer. We trained with some of the first-team during the season. To be around those guys was a tremendous help as far as developing my game. I watched how guys like Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso and Mauro Rosales trained. How they handled their business showed me what it meant, and what it took, to be a professional.
My high school career finished up a couple of months later, and my family and I chose to take the opportunity to get an education and play soccer at Stanford. I fell in love with the school from the moment I got there. Stanford is a huge part of who I am today, not only as a soccer player, but as a person.
When the USMNT came into the picture around my sophomore year, there was a lot of outside pressure on me to leave school and go pro right away. But I was becoming more than just a soccer player at Stanford. I was finding out who I was, and who I wanted to be. I was still young — I just wanted to be a college kid a little longer.
Stanford is a huge part of who I am today, not only as a soccer player, but as a person.
On the field I had a coach who became a friend and a mentor to me in Jeremy Gunn. He was intense from the get-go, and he had a system that you needed to buy into right away, but he got the most out of every single player, especially me.
He and John Smith, one of our assistant coaches, had both been forwards when they played, so they helped the offensive side of my game a lot.
After all of our matches, we’d go back and watch tape and go over my runs and different moments from the game.
“Jordan, you might want to bend your run a bit more here, try and get behind that last defender,” John might say.
“When you get to that spot, pick your head up and look for the trailing runner. He’ll be there.”
It was that sort of care and coaching that made me feel like I didn’t need to leave right away. I was becoming a better player — and human — at Stanford.
After we won the National Championship in my junior year at Stanford, it became clear I had a very real opportunity to do something special and turn professional. It seemed like everyone had an opinion on what I should do or where I should play. I needed some space.
Eventually I decided to forgo my senior season at Stanford. I felt ready to turn pro. I travelled to Germany in January to train with Werder Bremen. I remember my first session with the team. I thought, Man, 10-year-old Jordan would never believe you are here with a Bundesliga club.
From an outside perspective, it may have always seemed like I was going to sign with Seattle, but when I was in Germany I truly was undecided. My heart was in Seattle, but I didn’t want to look back on my life and think that I had missed an opportunity, or I that I hadn’t given something my best shot.
I won’t lie, though, I missed home. I was only about two weeks into playing in Bremen, and all I could think about was Seattle. The Seahawks were in the playoffs, and all I wanted to do was to be around all the people I loved in the city — my city, my home.
And then I thought about standing in that box at the Link staring down onto the pitch before the very first Sounders game on that perfect, cloudy Seattle day.
I came home from Germany after my training spell was up, and a few weeks later signed a contract. I was going to play for the Seattle Sounders.
One of the most significant things that happened for me heading into the season was that I learned how to best handle my diabetes and still be an elite soccer player.
Before games, I used to get my blood glucose levels checked basically every 30 minutes. It’s something not a lot of people ever have to worry about. But that number, for me, is my green light to play. But like I said before, having to monitor my glucose made it difficult to get into a rhythm leading up to a game. But after I signed my contract with Seattle, I was introduced to this device called a Dexcom continuous glucose monitor (CGM). It checks my blood glucose level automatically every five minutes, and then sends the information to my phone or smartwatch.
All of those questions and worries I used to have about how diabetes would hold me back? I didn’t have to worry about them anymore. And I just want kids who have diabetes to know that in this day and age, nothing can hold us back.
In the weeks leading up to the first match of the season, I didn’t really think about scoring a goal … well, I mean, of course I did a little. But what I really wanted — what I couldn’t get out of my mind — was that noise. The sound of tens of thousands of Sounders fans on their feet, cheering for this club.
And we’ve come a long way since our first season in 2009. We’ve got our chants, our rivalries — we’ve got our own marching band! — and there’s also this one ritual before the start of each match. When the starting lineup is announced, the P.A announcer says the first name of a player, and the crowd yells the last name. And I really, really wanted to hear our fans scream my name.
The first game of the season came around and as I walked out onto the pitch, I was taken straight back to my first Sounders game at CenturyLink Field. All these people are here for us.
We were walking out of the tunnel when they started reading the lineups.
“Starting in midfield, number 13, Jordan….”
I got goose bumps all over my body. And every time since, every time I hear the crowd yell my name, I realize how lucky I am.
That stadium is just so damn fun to play in. You see it when the Seahawks play, and it’s contagious. The noise is deafening, but as a player, you sort of get used to it in a way. When you’re in the zone, you block it out. If you score a goal though, Oh, boy. It’s something else. That energy from the sound literally runs through your veins.
You want to score to win the game, but you really want to score just to hear that sound.
Here’s the thing though, we didn’t hear that sound nearly enough during the middle of this season. It was hard. We felt it too. It wasn’t easy seeing Sigi go, especially with how much he meant to the club. Having people tell you that this was the worst Seattle season of all time? That really got to me, not just as a player, but also as a kid from this city. It was a dream to play for this club and these fans, and I didn’t want to let them down.
We were at the bottom of the Western Conference, and nothing was going right.
Coach Schmetzer took over, and one afternoon in July, before a match against the L.A. Galaxy, he sat us all down.
“Look, what do we have to lose now? We’re dead last, nobody thinks we can accomplish anything anymore, and they’ve already counted us out. What do we have to lose? We all know we’re better than this, so go out there and show everyone else.”
He was right.
Everyone gave up on us, and we took it personally.
We knew bounces hadn’t gone our way, and that luck seemed to be against us – like losing Clint Dempsey for the season. When his heart conditioned flared up and we knew he’d be out it was tough. He was a mentor to me, and a hero of mine. There isn’t a practice or game that goes by where I don’t use something he taught me.
The turnaround started right then and there, and a few weeks later we felt like a new team. We added Nicolás Lodeiro in July, and he really changed the way we played. He has that South American flair, the one that unlocks defenses. We knew we had talent. But sometimes you’re just missing a piece of the puzzle offensively — and Nico was it for us.
But it wasn’t just him. Our leaders stepped up and we put a responsibility on one another. A responsibility to each other, to our coaches, and most importantly, to our fans.
Even when we were at rock bottom, they were out there, behind the goal, screaming their lungs out for us. We never forgot that. We haven’t lost a home game in over four months. They’re a huge reason we’re at this point now.
Even though it was against all odds for us to just be in the final, we’re still not satisfied.
We know we’re underdogs, but we’re used to it.
We were supposed to lose in the first leg to Dallas — which had won the Supporters Shield and the U.S. Open Cup.
We were supposed to lose to Colorado in the conference finals. The Rapids had the second-most points in the league and had given up the fewest goals in MLS history.
And now, we’re supposed to lose to Toronto, in Toronto.
Toronto is an outstanding team. Great players, well coached, and a big crowd who will be behind them all game.
So, fine, count us out again.
We want the ball.