We came to drink. We came to sing. We came to claim the Cup for Rave Green.
After joining Emerald City Supporters on its road trip to watch the Sounders play the Vancouver Whitecaps for a chance to bring the Cascadia Cup back to Seattle for the first time since 2007, I can happily say mission accomplished on all three fronts.
Clearly, the most important of those tasks was beating the Whitecaps. The Sounders took care of that part, thrashing their northern rivals 3-1 in a match that could just as well have been 6-1 if not for a few unlucky bounces off the goal posts. But that was also the part in which we, the travelling fans, had the smallest role.
As decisive a victory as the Sounders scored, you could make a compelling argument that we held up our end of the bargain to at least the same degree. From the moment we exited our six buses and started our procession through the Pacific National Exhibition grounds on our way to Empire Field, we were in full voice and we didn't stop until well after the Cascadia Cup was safely in the hands of ECS.
It would be more than a little presumptuous of me to say that our support played a key role in the victory, but the players and coaches clearly appreciated the effort. During the cup ceremony, they made it at least as much about their supporters as they made it about themselves. And it wasn't just the 500 or so of us sitting in the designated away-support section, there were anywhere from 1,000-1,500 more fans sprinkled in pockets all over the stadium. At times, it really did feel as if the Sounders were playing at home.
This being my first away outing with ECS, I was simply blown away by the entire experience. The organization it took to put it together is mind-bogglingly impressive. That it all went off as perfectly as any reasonable person could have expected is nothing short of amazing.
We Came To Drink...
Let there be no doubt, the average member of ECS enjoys the occasional drink. Heck, let's be honest, a lot of members really like drinking quite a bit. That there happens to be a game after some of their drinking sessions is surely just a happy coincidence for a good number of them. It's entirely unfair to say the group is all about drinking, but it's ridiculous to deny that drinking is not a major part of their identity. There are plenty of members who don't drink at all or drink only in moderation, but those people were most certainly in the minority during the trip to Vancouver.
The journey began with members choosing one of three pick-up locations -- Tacoma, Tukwila or Seattle's Northgate. By the time my wife and I arrived at the Northgate location around noon on Saturday, there were already hundreds waiting, many of them with their own caches of alcohol in hand.
We were given our bus assignment -- No. 6, Osvaldo Alonso -- and finally got on the road just before 1 p.m. In all, there were six buses all arranged by ECS, carrying about 350 members. Each was named after a player, with Mauro Rosales, Alvaro Fernandez, Fredy Montero, Kasey Keller and Mike Fucito being the others with buses bearing their names and numbers. Another 80 or so ECS members got themselves to the game and the remaining 70 tickets that were part of the away allocation were distributed by Gorilla FC and North End Faithful, the two other biggest supporters groups.
Just before boarding the bus, we realized all that extra alcohol people brought was merely supplementary. Woodinville-based Red Hook Brewery donated a keg to each of the buses. Shortly after leaving the terminal, the keg was tapped and beers were in the hands of anyone who wanted one within 15 minutes.
The trip between Northgate and the rest stop just outside of Bellingham was one filled with equal parts drinking and singing. The de facto bartender was pouring drinks almost nonstop and various ECS members took turns playing capo. "Eternal Blue Forever Green" was probably the bus's favorite song, as it pitted one group of the bus against another in a competition of who could be the loudest. There were several versions, including left of the bus vs. the right and the significantly more popular front of the bus vs. back.
Predictably, the back of the bus was where more of the rowdier members chose to sit. But that didn't keep the front-of-the bus members from doing their best to match the back's energy, at least during these chants.
There were, of course, lots of customized chants. The more colorful ones involved building a bonfire with Whitecaps and Timbers and a sparrow/crow hybrid dropping some gifts on the city of Vancouver. But some of them were considerably nicer, such as the serenade to the bus driver.
Just as we reached the rest stop, there was some honest-to-goodness excitement when we realized the keg had been finished off. To put that in perspective, that meant about 60 people managed to drink the equivalent of 165 12oz. servings over the course of the roughly 90-mile trip.
The rest of the journey was decidedly less fun. Waiting at the border can be a drag on any international trip, but when you're on a bus filled with drunken soccer fans who are almost literally exploding with pent up excitement, it can be even more frustrating. Luckily, we got through the border without incident and started our final leg.
There was more singing and chanting between the border and the stadium, but the excitement had clearly started to morph into angst. At this point, we had been traveling for more than four hours, the bus was starting to smell and there was no more beer to occupy our attention.
We finally pulled into the stadium grounds just after 6 p.m. The group took a few minutes to assemble but when it finally did, it was a sight to behold.
We Came To Sing...
I have to assume a good number of the Sounders fans who did not travel by bus congregated in the parking lot because there sure seemed to be a lot more people than the 350 who were together at the rest stop. The chanting picked up as soon as we starting making our way through the grounds, which passed a hockey arena, a race track and a small amusement park. The line of people was probably five-seven wide and must have stretched back a couple hundred yards.
We were flanked by security on both sides, and I was pleasantly surprised that they seemed far more amused than concerned by our behavior. The casual onlookers clearly didn't know quite what to make of us, as they had obviously never seen anything like this parade of singing supporters.
As we finally arrived at the stadium and began encountering actual Whitecaps fans, they didn't seem quite sure what to think of us either. While the Whitecaps have their own supporters, The Southsiders, they aren't nearly as visible at their games or nearly as large of a group as ECS. Such a large group of fans singing in unison was not something these fans had seen before, and certainly not at their stadium.
Once we were settled in our section, which was in the upper level of the northwest side of the stadium, the signing and chanting once again began in earnest. As the players entered the field, they were greeted by the familiar "Boom-Boom-Clap" that has become one of the staples of all Sounders games. Being as I was in the center of the ECS section I'm probably not the best judge of this, but it seemed like our unified clapping was even drowning out the Japanese Taiko drums that were being played on the field.
Similarly, it felt like our singing of the national anthem was also overpowering the professional singer who was on the microphone. I was admittedly a little worried that some idiot would tarnish the day by booing during the Canadian national anthem, but I was relieved to hear nothing but support. If not remaining quiet, the only people in ECS making any noise were ones who were actually singing along with the crowd.
Just before kickoff we unveiled our tifo. I obviously didn't get to see it live as I was helping support it, but I later learned that it was a picture of Mauro Rosales giving a fist pump with a burning Vancouver skyline behind him. Above the picture were the words "We Predict a Riot," an obvious jab at Vancouverites who turned over cars and caused general mayhem after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup.
During this entire time, ECS basically made themselves the center of attention. Just about anyone with a camera, either working for the team or just an interested bystander, seemed intent on documenting what was going on. Not to make too much of it, but all this attention was basically for ECS doing what they do at literally every home game. It wasn't like people were dressed in costumes or generally making asses of themselves. This was just a group of fans doing their thing.
We Claimed the Cup...
I'll admit to occasionally being annoyed by flags and two-poles blocking my vision during the run of play. On this day, it didn't bother me in the least. Since you probably had a better view of the game than I did, I won't bore you with the details. But I do know we gave up a few early opportunities and the Whitecaps actually scored first.
At that point, the Whitecaps crowd absolutely exploded. Considering how relatively quiet they had been up to that point, it was almost jarring. Plenty of fans seated in the general vicinity of ECS were more interested in taunting us than cheering their team at that point, but I'm proud to say that no one from our section took the bait. We simply kept on with our chanting, even if it was tinged with a little extra nervousness.
After the Sounders tied the score on a Brad Evans penalty, there was an almost palpable sense of relief. The singing was less tinged with anxiety and more relaxed. It was also a lot more fun.
The Sounders finally took their first lead on an absolutely glorious goal from Fredy Montero. If I have personally witnessed a more satisfying goal in my life, I don't know what it was. This goal was huge not because it gave us the lead over the worst team in MLS, but because it allowed us to really let loose in celebration at a rival's stadium.
Montero's second goal sent us into a new state of euphoria. Chants of "It's all gone quiet over there," rung out throughout ECS and at one point we even turned our backs to the game to sing "Seattle Sounders Ole" (otherwise known as the pogo song). It may not have been the classiest gesture, but what fun is acting like you been there, anyway?
When the final whistle blew and the Whitecaps fans started filtering out, it really became apparent just how many Sounders fans were in the house. They came out of seemingly every corner of the stadium and filtered down toward the field to witness the Timbers Army handing over the Cascadia Cup.
During the hand-off, the Whitecaps were having a celebration of their own. It was the last game to ever be played at Empire Field, a temporary facility that will be torn down when the Whitecaps move to renovated BC Place next week. As coincidence would have it, the Whitecaps set off some fireworks while the Sounders were lifting the Cup, making it seem like a much bigger celebration than I'm sure the Whitecaps intended it to be.
Once the players had taken their turn with the cup, it was passed to ECS leadership and then carried into the stands. The cup was passed through the crowd and eventually ended up in the hands of Preston Burpo, the former USL Sounder who had joined us. On a night full of great moments, seeing the look on his face when he was serenaded with chants of "Sounders legend (clap, clap, clap, clap, clap) Sounders legend" was maybe the best.
Drinking, Singing and Winning
Marching back to the buses, a much more quiet sense of accomplishment washed over us. No, we hadn't made any tackles, completed any passes or scored any goals. But we had given it our Full 90, if you'll pardon the cliche, and I think we deserved to feel as though we had done our part to earn the satisfaction.
At least among the official away travelers, there were no incidents to speak of. No arrests. No fights. No serious injuries. Everyone made it across the border and back. The travelling support drank, sang and got to do both while literally holding the Cascadia Cup. More than two months of careful ECS planning had been executed to absolute perfection.
I came away from the whole experience with not just a new respect for ECS as an organization, but with a burning desire to do this all again.