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My Year on the Sounders Beat

It might not have started that way, but this was a great season to cover the Sounders.

MLS Cup Final: Sounders vs. Toronoto Photo Credit - MikeRussellFoto

My first full season covering the Seattle Sounders coincided with a number of “firsts” for the club itself: first Rookie of the Year, first “mutual parting of ways” with a coach, and most importantly, first MLS Cup. It’s been an interesting year, one that was full of ups and downs for both the team and for myself. In 2016, I published 275 articles (including this one). Some were good, some were bad, some caused people to say mean things to and about me. But I learned a lot working for this site in 2016, and I hope to learn even more in 2017.

I want to thank Jeremiah and Dave for giving me the gig, which has helped me find more Sounders and MLS-related work throughout the year. I blogged about the Sounders over at ESPN 710’s site, did a number of match previews earlier in the season for FourFourTwo, and launched a podcast, Sound Stories, that I hope to continue in 2017. I had the opportunity to travel to a number of away matches, which was pretty rad and made me feel pretty legit—even more thanks to Sounder at Heart for those opportunities.

Thanks to the rest of the staff here, who are all awesome and helpful in keeping this site going strong. Thanks to the community, both on the site and on Twitter, for welcoming me and reading my stuff. Thanks to the Sounders organization, the players (except Chad Marshall, who always gives me dirty looks), Sigi Schmid, and Brian Schmetzer for helping me out, answering my (sometimes stupid) questions, and treating me with respect in every interaction.

Here are some of the most memorable moments of my first full year on the Sounders beat:

  • The signing of Jordan Morris: It was the first time I covered a big signing for the Sounders, but I still had a sense that this one was way bigger than most. The press conference felt like a zoo, with a legion of media from all over the country packing into The Ninety to chat with the most-hyped Homegrown Player signing in the club’s history. I remember being kind of awed by how young Morris looked in the conference, how awed he seemed by the experience; he started the season very shy with reporters, but chatted with us like a seasoned veteran by the end of it.
  • Jordan Morris’ first goal: There was so much hype surrounding Morris this season—as evidenced by the circus of a press conference mentioned above—so I expected there to be some pushback if he didn’t immediately light the league on fire. It took a few games, but the rookie finally scored his first Seattle goal against Philadelphia back in April, and it was awesome. As the “reporter” on staff, I do my best to report and write with as little bias as possible. But the truth is, I am a fan and I want Seattle to win games. After seeing Morris get criticized early in the season despite working his butt off constantly in practice and in matches, it was great to see a good kid like him finally find the net.
  • Interviewing Djimi Traore: If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably figured out that I’m a pretty big Liverpool fan. So when I first moved to Seattle and saw the name “Djimi Traore” on the team sheet, I was pretty stoked that a former Red played for my new team. Traore has since transitioned to a coaching role with the club, and I was able to interview him back in May about Liverpool’s Europa League final run, his work with the Sounders, and how MLS has grown since he first arrived in Seattle.
  • The Copa America: It was pretty cool that my first summer covering the Sounders also coincided with Seattle hosting three matches in the Copa America Centenario tournament. I covered all three, which were unique experiences on their own. Haiti-Peru was quite the snoozer, but it was a good primer on how to cover international matches. Argentina-Bolivia was more exciting thanks to a raucous atmosphere that mostly consisted of the crowd’s chants of “Messi, Messi” in hopes that the Argentina star would make an appearance off the bench at some point. While he did come on late, the match was already won for his country. Still, it was a delight to see one of the best players of all time play in person. The media experience was disheartening at first, as Messi blew off the small-time English-language media in the player availability area afterwards. I did, however, get a short quote from Argentina and Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero afterwards. I asked him what he thought of CenturyLink and its atmosphere, and he simply responded “good, good!”
  • USA vs. Ecuador: I separated this out from the rest of the Copa point, because this was an experience all on its own. I have seen the USA national team play before—a Gold Cup semifinal in my home state of Texas, which felt like an away game for both fans and players. But this was different. The quarterfinal against Ecuador was quite different. Seattle is not Dallas, and the USA was certainly the home team—and it felt like it. The atmosphere was incredible, and CenturyLink was rocking. All of my journalistic objectivity went out the window when the final whistle blew, and it was an experience I’ll never forget. Also, USA and Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley was a dick to me in the media availability area.
  • Sigi Schmid leaves Seattle: There are lots of memories associated with this situation. I remember seeing the email pop up on my phone on the way to Starfire on the morning that the Sounders “parted ways” Sigi. I remember getting shouted and cursed out of Sigi’s going-away party after a club miscommunication caused members of ECS to turn abusive towards the media that showed up to cover the event. I remember getting beers with Sigi with other members of the media, having a great off-the-record chat that I’ll never forget. Sigi Schmid is a good man, but I know why the Sounders had to cut him loose. It changed the season for the better, but I still feel sorry for him and how his storied Seattle tenure had to end.
  • Seeing Lodeiro’s first matches: The two biggest catalysts to the Sounders’ late-season charge were the signing of Nicolas Lodeiro and the promotion of Brian Schmetzer. But Lodeiro’s effect was much more tangible and visible on the pitch. I remember just being in awe of what the Uruguayan could do on the pitch: create space with his technique and vision, make pinpoint long passes, slice open the defense with a through ball, curl a devastating free kick into the net, and more. Lodeiro is simply a class above most of the league in terms of skill, technique, and talent. I consider it a privilege to have seen some of his more brilliant moments this year.
  • The Portland & Vancouver press boxes: Because the Sounders are blessed enough to be just a few hours from both of their biggest rivals in the league, I was able to make the jaunt to each of the Cascadia away matches this season, and it was a great experience. Being able to look down to the Seattle away fans in Portland and observe their singing from that angle was a fun experience. On the other hand, the lack of syrup in the press box food area, despite the presence of chicken and waffles, was mildly egregious. In Vancouver, I got to see Canadians fight over french fries being thrown in front of the press box.
  • Nelson Valdez’s last-gasp goal against KC: Not only was this one fun because of the post-match pouting from Peter Vermes and Benny Feilhaber, but seeing the much-maligned Valdez be the playoff hero that eventually led to the Sounders’ first MLS Cup...that was just magical.
  • Trip to Dallas: A native of north Texas, I was able to make it to the Metroplex to see the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals, where the Sounders sealed their aggregate win and trip to the Conference finals. I had the chance to chat with Fernando Clavijo, Technical Director of FC Dallas and a close personal friend of Brian Schmetzer. It was great to get a fresh perspective on Schmetz, especially from someone who knows and cares about him as deeply as Clavijo. I also had real Texas barbecue before the game, so that’s always a bonus.
  • Toronto: A last minute decision sent me to Toronto for the Sounders’ first MLS Cup final, and despite a rough travel day, I was stoked to be there. On the Friday night before the game, we were at the team’s hotel with some other media people, and I had one of those moments that I’ll never forget. Brian Schmetzer came down to the restaurant with his family and some other team staff, and came over to chat with our table. After acknowledging the others at the table, Schmetz looked me in the eye, shook my hand, and thanked me (by name!) for the work I do. It was a small moment, but it was the kind of validation that makes the hours of hard work and little pay feel even more rewarding.
  • The Big Game: It was very cold, but the many layers I brought to BMO Field turned out to be mostly useless, as I ended up getting assigned to the indoor press area, unlike our colleague at Waking the Red. The match, as you know, was quite stressful and exciting. When the Roman Torres made that epic final penalty kick, I turned to Andrew Harvey of Sportspress Northwest, shook his hand, and turned back to my laptop to finish up my recap. Most of the rest is a haze of poutine, beer, writing, and sharing a small hotel room with Jeremiah and Mike Russell, but it was an unforgettable experience to see the Sounders win that trophy for the first time.

Here’s to a memorable 2016 on the Sounders beat—let’s hope for even more memories in 2017. Thanks to all the readers, commenters, lurkers, and trolls for making all of this possible.

Bonus: Here are some of the scarves, press passes, and other random things I accumulated this season.

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