I'm still moved from last night, and it made me think where Zak's return rates in Sounders history.
My personal favorite memories:
5) First game video: Before the MLS debut against New York, the team played a video marking off the franchise milestones on the path to get there, and it ended with the words "Scarves Up!"
Not knowing much about soccer culture, I wasn't excited about the whole scarf thing. I actually thought it was more likely to be mocked than celebrated. If the team hadn't literally tied my ticket to the scarf I probably wouldn't even had brought it to the game.
But walking around downtown and seeing everyone decked out in rave green and having scarves too, I started to sense what I was becoming part of, and was excited to see it happen. So a few hours later, when that video ended and I looked around the stadium, all I saw was a wave of green. It was just...cool.
4) Kansas City's goal: In the 80th minute we fell behind Kansas City. We had won our first three games, but early on our defense broke down and Keller got a red card stopping a breakaway outside the box. After playing most of the game short-handed and with an MLS pool keeper, we finally fell behind 1-0.
The team and crowd deflated for a moment. But in the short time it took for the ball to get back to midfield and kicked off again, the players had gathered themselves. You could clearly see their defiance, and the crowd became revitalized and got even louder than before. Those last 10 minutes were full of frantic soccer and wild cheering, with emotions swinging wildly between optimism and despair.
Even though the Sounders suffered their first loss that night, afterwards I thought that reaction demonstrated this wasn't a "flavor of the month" experience, and the Sounders were going to be big for a long, long time.
3) Ozzie's PK in Portland: I wrote about this day (poorly) here. We paid $100 for 2nd row seats behind the goal, with the ECS up to our left. All three Sounders goals happened right in front of us, and Ozzie gave the Sounders their first lead after a red card put us at a man advantage.
At that moment, it sunk in to both our group and the surrounding Portland fans - all really good sports, btw - that we were taking the victory back up north. We got to cheer the W surrounded by the opposition, and a few Sounders players came over after the game.
2) Kasey Keller's four save barrage against San Jose: 64,000 fans were there to honor one of the greatest American soccer players ever. We were already down 1-0 when Ianni's poor pass gave Wondolowski (arguably the best forward in MLS) an opportunity to go 1v1 against Keller and just about seal the game.
Kasey stoned him. Then he did it again...and again...and one more time for good measure. This happened in front of my seats, with the two biggest soccer fans among my friends next to me. The crowd went wild, recently subbed in Mauro engineered the first of two goals and we went on to a 2-1 win. Parents accepted their kids were going to repeatedly hear "He's big, he's tall, he's a mutherf-----g wall!"
That play won MLS Save of the Year, and even if you take away the significance of it happening in front of a huge crowd on Kasey Keller Night, it deserved it.
1) Steve Zakuani's return: Fans in our area were chanting for Zak the entire second half last night, and safe to say we weren't the only ones. For a moment we thought Cato's sub was him, since from a distance all we could see was a skinny black dude waiting to come on.
A few minutes later, when Zak finally put on his jersey and walked towards Sigi for some last minute instructions, that was the loudest I've ever heard the crowd....and everyone just kept going in a thunderous, sustained roar. We were cheering something bigger than a game, bigger than sports in general. It was about an amazing person overcoming incredible odds to live their dream.
Steve Zakuani has handled the past 14 months with as much class and grace as humanly possible. He deserves the love and support he's gotten during his recovery. It was a honor to be in the stadium and witness his moment.