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Take A Number, Seriously Any Number You Want

Sounders kit numbers have pushed beyond the traditional cutoff and are now into the 80s and 90s.

At FC Dallas, Victor Mansaray not only became the youngest Sounders teen to debut, but also the first to wear a number in the 80s.
At FC Dallas, Victor Mansaray not only became the youngest Sounders teen to debut, but also the first to wear a number in the 80s.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

So maybe they wouldn't be coveted for the waiting line at the DMV, but two Sounders rookies have unwaveringly embraced the numbers they've been issued.

When Victor Mansaray sprinted onto the Toyota Stadium pitch last week, he not only became the youngest Seattle pro to appear in a competitive first team match, the 18-year-old also broke new ground by wearing '80' on his kit, front and back.

A few minutes, later the numerology bar was pushed higher still with the introduction of No. 91, Oniel Fisher.

The Numbers Game

While it took 33 years to break with tradition and go beyond the 30s, now the Sounders are approaching the outer limits. Officially FIFA restricts numbers to 99, but as those attending the Xolos friendly will attest, who's counting?

Tijuana substitute Matthew Gomes wore 104 on his back, and the club roster lists a first team player with 112. Furthermore, their academy ledger is loaded with players asssigned triple digits.

What's in a number? It's become more personal and less about tradition.

In bygone days, the number worn indicated a player's position, beginning with '1' for the keeper, '2' for the right back and so on, up to '11' for the left winger. The latter, incidentally, was synonymous with Mr. Ambassador, Alan Hinton, who wore it with distinction during his England days and first year with Dallas of the NASL.

America was one of the the first places to issue permanent numbers, print names on jersey backs and, yes, retire coveted numbers just a few years after a club arrives in town (that would be the RSL No. 9).

With S2, Anything's Possible

For the first few seasons, like their Seattle predecessors, Sounders FC took the traditional tack. The number ceiling was 35. After Kasey Keller retired, his 18 was off-limits for two seasons and is again today.

The advent of S2, however, has broken the mold. To enable players to move seamlessly back and forth, they have been afforded a wide berth in choosing their kit digits. The S2 numerical roster starts at 25 and rolls through 99 (the next-best option to 9 for Andy Craven).

Clearly the sanctity of certain numbers is now nearly non-existent. It's no longer a jinx to wear 13. A striker such as Clint Dempsey -- who a generation ago would've sought the 9 or 10 -- will move heaven and earth, and throw-in a steak dinner, to bump a rookie right back out his namesake Deuce shirt. Just last week, the Montreal back-five featured numbers totaling 143, a far cry from the predictable sum of 16 a generation ago.

Whatever the Number, Own It

Mansaray is nonchalant about his 80, having worn it since childhood. "I would take any number available," he says, "but it really doesn't matter to me. The numbers don't play. It's all about what you do with it."

Fisher wore the coveted 10 throughout his years at New Mexico. The equipment crew issued him 51 in preseason, then upon signing he asked for 91, his birth year. Plan B was 45.

"I thought, Why not take a number that nobody's worn before and make it my own?" offers Fisher, "and I want to stick with it."

While 80 and 91 may seem unconventional now, there's no telling how we may feel in three, five or 10 years time. Who knows, one day those numbers may hang from the CLink rafters.

I'm sure Scottish center back Dave Gillett never donned 17 before arriving in Seattle in 1974. But he wore it for the Sounders with distinction, so much so that a local girl asked for that number throughout her high school days. She kept asking for it, even when named to the national team. In the end, Michelle Akers settled for the 10.

From zero to 99, it seems there's something for everyone. What numbers do you find to be iconic, and which are you're anxious to activated or, perhaps, retired?

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

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