Standing in the east end of Starfire, in the area that was apparently deemed the beer garden, I finally felt like I had my first "I was there when" moment.
I've attended probably eight games this season, checking out matches from vantage points all over the stadium -- from the southeast corner flag to the Brougham End to the press box. I have seen the Sounders play international opponents, lose to a last-place team and beat the team led by their former Designated Player. But I feel like Wednesday's victory over Chivas USA could be the first one I've attended that will go down in history.
While the win over the Fire was certainly awesome, at the end of the day it was just another MLS victory. The win in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup has the potential to really mean something.
In the short term, it gives the Sounders a chance to become the first MLS team to ever repeat as champions of the country's longest-running soccer tournament.
From a historical perspective, I think this game will live on for reasons that go beyond that.
For one, this could very well be the last truly significant match to ever be played at tiny Starfire Stadium. Less than 5,000 people were in attendance, but the Sounders probably could have sold at least three times that if the game was at Qwest and properly marketed. Supposedly, the presale for the final is going very well. Combined with what appears to be more of an open mind to the #trophiesnotfriendlies movement, I imagine that we'll see matches like these moved to the big stadium in the future.
For another, this game represented a major moment for fans of the old USL team. Not only did Taylor Graham start and play a magnificent match at centerback, but former USL Sounders teammate Roger Levesque registered an assist on the final goal. Zach Scott, another USL holdover, was on the 18-man roster.
"It's great," Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer said of seeing players he originally signed for the USL team contribute in such a significant way to this team. "I'm mostly happy for them. They toiled at Qwest and Stafire in front of (much smaller crowds), three games in four nights, crappy hotels, no team meals, like the whole minor-league deal. Now for them to be a part of this big organization and hopefully to be treated the way they want to be treated, I'm just happy for them."
The experience was hardly lost on those players.
"The U.S. Open Cup has always been something that we've approached with a lot of desire," said Graham, who has now played in four straight Open Cup semifinals. "Even in the USL days, I remember playing Chivas on that pitch in the quarterfinals of 2008, beat them 2-0 here. A lot of those same guys were on this field, Justin Braun was there too.
"It's a little deja vu, but it's amazing to drive in 2.5 hours before the game and seeing people lined up. That's what is different. Seeing kids waiting outside is pretty special.
"It's a little night and day, to be hoenst. The fans before were great, but they were limited in numbers. Now we have just under 5,000 tonight. Whatever it was, it felt like we had the whole city behind us in a way. Especially knowing we were playing for a chance to host. That was something Sigi touched on before the game, remember how special it was to hoist the champinoship last year. Imagine how special it will be to have that opportunity to do it at your home in front of your own fans. I've been lucky ot be on teams to play in finals and you never get sick of it."
If this was, in fact, the last important match to be played at Starfire, I'll happily point out that I was one of the few who was there. I'm even happier that the Sounders did it in a style and with personnel that pays proper homage to their history.