I travel a lot for business. When I packed for this trip back in June, though, it was just a bit different: the scarf. The jersey. The sense of anticipation. This wasn't just a business trip. It was a business trip ever-so-fortunately scheduled to coincide with a Sounders game. I remember even rooting for the game to not end up at Starfire just so it could take place when I was already scheduled to be in the Bay Area.
I'm a STH and don't want to put myself into the running for the three tickets. The Sounders should be shared, right? But reading the travel stories up already had me thinking. Since seeing the Sounders at the Galaxy last July 4, I set a goal of trying to see one away match a year. I don't know if watching this year's Open Cup final with members of the SoCal Sound counts as it took place in Manhattan Beach and not Kansas City. But the Open Cup quarterfinal vs. San Jose in San Francisco is something I am STILL thinking about months later...
Normally, my wife and I sit in 143. We know the chants, but we're, you know... the sitting section. We stand when we want, the section explodes with a goal. Generally, everyone is just keyed into the game. As I rode the Muni out, I was psyched because I knew I was going to spend the evening chanting my face off with the members of the ECS who had traveled down. But there were some nerves... I had heard the rumors of how we don't completely get along with the SJ supporters. From reading the ECS forum, I knew there was concern of scarf theft. Plus, the SJ fan on the Muni a few seats down was giving me the stink eye.
Almost as soon as I got off the Muni to walk to the bar where the ECS was meeting up, I saw two others decked out and scarved in rave green... my people! The bar slowly filled with more and more supporters and I really got to see the community we've built around this team in action. In Seattle, I love how every time I'm out, I see someone in some manner of Sounders gear. I love how when I walk to home games the streets become more and more filled with Sounders fans with every step closer to the CLink. But to walk into a bar in a neighborhood I'd never set foot in, be welcomed by complete strangers and immediately be drawn into conversation all based on one team... it's something.
And then it happened. The time to march to Kezar Stadium was upon us. I've done the march many times in Seattle. It is always amazing. But there we were on Irving St. in San Fran. This has more in common with walking down Market in Ballard than Occidental. There are restaurants. There are apartments. There are shops. In other words, city life is taking place block after block. Dogs are walked. Grills are started on patios. Someone was probably on a blind date at one of the restaurants we passed.
If there was, we ruined conversation for a bit. I didn't do a headcount. Maybe it was 100 of us. But it was LOUD. People stopped to look. People took pictures. Who were these green-and-blue people... and what are they here for? It was incredible.
I remember seeing a tweet from Ross Fletcher later saying that all was quiet in Kezar, but he could already hear the ECS coming.
Once inside, the ECS and their "travel monkeys" took it from there. If there is a better prepared group of leaders for a supporters group somewhere, I'd be skeptical. They has everything arranged for where we would sit, how to get their flags and props in and everything. (After the match, they were also very good at making sure people who left were in groups and protected from harassment... which I didn't encounter, but still... amazing work these guys do for us).
The game began. Heckles regarding respective sizes of teams' garden sheds were issued. Songs were sung. Reading tweets from afar about how fans at home could hear us either on the terrible SJ feed, the radio or the infamous "Sonar Feed" only juiced us up more. We gave it all we had - and fortunately so did the Sounders.
After the final whistle, sometime around when EJ decked a guy, Zach Scott came charging over to the ECS section. He said some things not entirely suitable for a family blog like this one, but I don't think I've ever seen a player so genuinely excited to have won a hard fought game but to have been able to look up and see that we were doing our part to support them. I've been around sports my entire life, met a few athletes now and then and heard the whole thing about how "they don't hear the crowd out there." Maybe that's true for some sports and athletes. But it was clear this team, our Sounders, they hear us. They want to hear us. It was the ultimate fan experience for me. Everyone - on the field and off the field - played their roles. Everyone played hard. And we all walked away sharing in a win.