Fandom is a funny thing. We all have different paths in our lives that led us to our favorite sports teams. A majority of people are fans of teams from their own hometown or nearest major city. Some people follow a particular team because their grandparents took them to a few games when they were a child. There are even some who are fans of a team for the lone reason of "they win a lot." We don't like those people. Me? Well, I'm a product of the Pacific Northwest. I may live in The Grand Canyon State these days, but my heart is in Seattle. I grew up a Mariners, Seahawks, and Sonics fan.
In 2008, there was a void left in the Seattle sports scene when our beloved basketball team was stolen from our fair city. I, like others, needed to fill that newly created emptiness with something else. I really didn't watch a lot of soccer growing up, but I always had a slight interest in it. So, prior to the start of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, I made it a point that I was going to learn as much as I can about the beautiful game.
Enter Seattle Sounders.
My knowledge of soccer went as follows: Major League Soccer was the primary league here in the States and I knew the Sounders were pretty new to it. That's it. Hell, I didn't even know what an offside call was at the time. With that being said, the team in rave green were my "in." I couldn't think of a better way to learn about the sport than to watch the team from my home state. When I first started watching matches, I noticed something that I immediately fell in love with: the atmosphere of the games. It was incredible. I had never seen or heard anything like it. I immediately sensed there was a special bond between the players and the fan base. It was a community I needed to be a part of. There was just one problem, I lived 1,500 miles away.
I have called Arizona home since 1999. There main downside to rooting for a team from this kind of distance is that it can be a little depressing. I don't mean depressing like when your team loses a game, or if the front office is a nuclear wasteland of incompetence for well over a decade. Here's the thing: No matter how loud I cheered at home in front of my TV, there was still something missing. I don't know what it's like to embrace the person next to me because Oba scored yet another goal. I haven't experience the warmth of fire slap me in the face after Clint finds the back of the net. I have never high-fived someone with such force that the palm of my hand stung after a Nelson Valdez header. That is something I hope to change very soon.
For the past few years, the Sounders have held their preseason camp down Tucson, which is located about an hour and a half away from me. When I first learned that camp was within driving distance, I knew I had to go watch a game, a practice, a scrimmage, just-something. In both 2013 and 2014, I had made plans to go down there, but it wasn't meant to be. The universe had other ideas and my plans fell through. Finally, just last year, I was able to make the trip with my brother. I was going to watch the Seattle Sounders take on Sporting Kansas City in the Desert Diamond Cup. I know this sounds a little silly for me to say about a meaningless preseason game, but this was a huge deal for me. I understood that I don't have too many opportunities to watch them play, so I told myself to be in the moment and take it all in. I wanted to appreciate everything - win, lose, or draw.
The Kino Sports Complex in Tucson is a fairly small and intimate setting. There is a main field with a grandstand and a few other smaller fields scattered nearby. Just before the start of a match, all of the players walk out of a very small, plain looking building located next to the field. This is the type of venue where you can hear everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) that is shouted during play. I recall sitting on the bleachers, surrounded by Sounders fans and being filled with an incredible amount of pride. I was sitting with actual, real-life supporters made of flesh and bone. I watched every little detail for 90 minutes. I don't usually get too worked up when it comes to sporting events, but I found myself yelling at the assistant referee within minutes of the first whistle. I didn't plan on yelling at the poor guy, but something came over me and it just happened. We cheered, we groaned, we chuckled when a drunken guy screamed, "You should have stayed in Montreal, Lamar!" although we didn't find it humorous the second and third time it was said. My viewing experience wasn't bound by television cameras this time. I finally had the chance to watch a Sounders game in a different way. It was alive and breathing right in front of me. It felt right. Even though the match ended in a draw, I was too busy riding on cloud nine to let it bother me.
I was fortunate enough to catch another game during the team's recent stay in southern Arizona. More importantly, I was able to share that experience with people I met through the Sounders community on Twitter: Mike (@MikeStandish), Sara (@srskank), and Sound at Heart's own Eric Flatness (@EricFlatness). I felt a lot of the same emotions I felt around this time last year. Actually, my emotions may have been a little higher this time around considering it was a match against Portland. It was still special, but in a different way. I was able to share this new experience with my brother and people I can truly call friends. It also gets me one step closer to where I want to be - getting lost in a sea of blue and blue with 40,000 screaming friends at Centurylink Field.