In Supporter circles you hear a lot about "The Crest." Honoring the Crest, playing for the Crest. Players come and go, but what stays constant is the Crest.
The problem is that the Crest, at some point, is little more than a corporate logo, carefully designed by a creative team and focus groups, that helps sell a product. It's a patch sewn - or laminated - onto a shirt; the shirt that soccer players wear when they are employed by the Seattle Sounders. It is these players that we sing for, to inspire to victory. It is these players with which we develop the human connection.
So far this week we have seen the departure of two former ECS Player of the Year award winners, in Michael Gspurning and Mauro Rosales. For each of those moves there were very solid reasons underlying those decisions that are hard to argue with. In the life we have chosen these are the difficult moments, mourning the loss of a player while also looking ahead and keeping our optimism. Patriots of Sounderland understand that this is part of the process of trying to build a better team.
But then there was Thursday's news of Steve Zakuani being picked up by Portland. Two days earlier, hardly anyone was surprised he was left on the RED list, and even so his presence was obscured by that of Gspurning's departure. It has been a whirlwind week with players being added just as fast as they depart: Stephan Frei is already our new 'keeper, Rosales was traded for Tristan Bowen and an allocation ranking spot; and even today we learn the Sounders have acquired an MLS Best XI caliber center back.
But something about the Zakuani story struck me. I know it's about the Crest, but I just can't help but think of what the man wearing that crest went through in his five years here.
There is a certain pocket of Sounder supporters who have retained their loyalty to Zakuani from the day he got unfortunately "Mullaned" in Colorado. The reason for this is obvious, if you go back and watch highlights of his play from '09 right up until early in the 2011 season - before the double leg break. He was an incandescent attacking player, able to play slide-rule passes at nearly full speed, who could take on MLS fullbacks and make them look utterly foolish. He had the technical ability to use his natural athletic gifts -- primarily speed -- and looked to be developing into the kind of wide attacking player we've rarely seen in MLS. There was a very good reason he became a fan favorite on a side that featured plenty of big names. There are even those who quite strongly believe the Sounders would have at least one MLS Cup in their trophy case by now if not for that run-in with Brian Mullan.
Everyone in Sounderland knows the reality of the situation, even Zakuani's most ardent supporters. There was no way the team could justify keeping him on the books for his salary, relative to his contributions both recent and expected (he would have likely hit the cap at about $250,000 in 2014). But there are still those in these parts who would love nothing more than to see him make a recovery -- no one is naive enough to believe a FULL recovery -- but at least a recovery to where he could consistently make plays like his assist on Eddie Johnson's goal when Portland visited Seattle last March. There was a glimmer of hope -- even after his addition to the RED list on Tuesday -- that the Sounders could find a way to keep him. Maybe, just maybe, he could one day significantly contribute in a Sounders shirt.
The reason that today's news is so disappointing to those of us in that aforementioned pocket of Sounderland is that now we can no longer hope for his recovery. He is with the team that we hate above all others, a team for which we simply can't stomach the thought of his finding success. I am now forced to hope that he rots on the bench and does little more than take up cap room. This is the life I have chosen as a Sounders Supporter. This makes me indescribably sad.
I haven't had this kind of an emotional reaction to the departure of a Sounders player, and honestly I'm not sure what to make of it. Is it entirely going to Portland? Had I heard Zakuani was headed to D.C. United I could probably find myself genuinely excited for him; helping rebuild a team that is in dire need of becoming immediately competitive lest they be embarrassed in CCL next season. But that's just one example.
I had plenty of time to steel myself to the inevitable departure of Steve Zakuani, and when it was time to hear the news I would've guessed there would be some regret; but of all the teams he could've gone to. When I read the news I felt sick.
There is a time for sentimentality, and this is it. There will be plenty of time to look forward to the next season, and the position the Sounders have put themselves in to improve the team. But right now I'm just gonna need a moment or two.