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A Thanksgiving for Soccer

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Frank MacDonald is a Seattle soccer journalist and historian, this story first appeared on his website and has been republished here with his permission.

For as long as there's been footy on this side the world, Thanksgiving has held special significance on the American soccer calendar. The fourth Thursday in November has long served as a demarcation, sometimes the starting line, sometimes the finish., but always something special.

There was once a time when the U.S. rotated on the same axis as the rest of the world, when football was played here in the worst of conditions, from late fall through early spring.

For sure, our forefathers were hearty souls. In the days of 10-hour shifts and 6-day work weeks, they pressed on; they persevered. For the miners who first brought the grand game from the Old World to these environs, the labor was extremely difficult and dangerous.

This time of year, in Newcastle and Black Diamond, they would rarely see the light of day, sinking into the earth before sunrise and not emerging from coal shafts until after nightfall. They had but 1.8 hours of leisure time.

The holidays, then, afforded them the rare opportunity to play. Nineteenth century records of challenge matches between camps and communities are sporadic for weekends. But come the holidays, the action picked up, beginning with Thanksgiving. Whatever the weather, our ancestors turned up at parks like Woodland and Hiawatha to play or watch by the thousands.

If you were from Britain or Italy, perhaps Thanksgiving and its tradition of feasting with friends and family had not quite taken hold. Or maybe it had.

I'd like to think that those new to our land embraced the holiday and were actually expanding it. Appreciative of opportunity in a new land, thankful for their health, they added their own ingredients, their own tradition to American life, and made it better, richer. What could be better than booting a ball about the park, followed by a hearty meal with loved ones? On Thanksgivings past I joined McCrath clan for their annual turkey day match with the Raneys on Queen Anne, and there was still plenty of time later for dinner with all the trimmings.

For most of the year it goes without saying that I'm thankful for this beautiful game brought to our shores, and thankful for those generations who've toiled without fanfare to form the sturdy foundation on which soccer now stands.

Whereas Thanksgiving was once the start to the season, now it serves as significant milepost, an indicator that a team's objective is close at hand. Each of the NCAA championships won by Seattle Pacific (6) and Seattle University (2), and the best of UW campaigns, came in the days following this holiday.

This, of course, is the first Sounders season to outlive the turkeys. That's reason to rejoice. We, however, want more. More than happy just to be here, already two trophies added to the trove, we are hungry. Two helpings in the tummy and we want dessert. There are still two games to be won.

Beyond being a banner season, I am most thankful for the bigger picture.

Whether the Sounders rise or fall, I'm grateful for what this club and its predecessors provided us, an opportunity to come together and celebrate a common love, much the way those miners did so long ago. The conditions at the CLink could be a bit raw come Sunday, but when packed in tight, more than 40,000 strong and in good voice, it warms the heart, if not the hands.

For the Seattle soccer community, for all we do inside and outside the lines, for the demonstration of genuine affection for this game over generations, I am thankful. furthermore, I'm thankful to be surrounded by Cascadia communities who care just as much; honestly, they're good company.

And if we, the Rave Nation, can do it all again and come together on December 7, I will summon still more gratitude. I figure there's no harm in being greedy, so long as you pause and give thanks.