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Three finals, three memories

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This one is going to be different, for so many reasons

MLS Cup Final: Sounders vs. Toronto Photo credit - MikeRussellFoto

2016 was a pretty wild ride for me. It was the first complete year that I covered the Sounders as a full-time job, both for Sounder at Heart and ESPN 710 Seattle. That year was full of moments both good and bad, both for me personally and for the team I was covering every day. I was at that first somber practice after Sigi left the team. I was there when he bought the media farewell drinks and regaled us with stories. I was in Dallas when they secured passage to the next round of the playoffs despite losing on the day. I was NOT at either leg against Colorado; much earlier in the season, my wife and I decided to take a trip to Portugal over Thanksgiving. The Sounders were near the bottom of the table at the time, and I thought there was no way in hell they’d come roaring up the table by then. But I was there, in Toronto, when IT happened.

An itinerary was quickly assembled for me, thanks to the fine folks at this here blog...emphasis on the quickly. I secured the last seat on a very long, uncomfortable flight to Newark and then waited hours for a constantly-delayed connection to Toronto on what might be the smallest commercial plane in existence. Eventually I found Jeremiah, who managed to get one of the team buses to wait for me while I got lost in the bowels of Toronto Pearson International Airport. That evening and the one that followed were a hectic mix of preparation, meeting with fans, and more, but a true highlight was when Coach Brian Schmetzer came to our table at the team hotel bar and thanked me for the writing I’d been doing all year. Moments like that made so much of the low points worth it.

Game day itself was even more hectic, courtesy of 12-degree Canadian weather and public transportation that was often more confusing than anything I’ve experienced in the world. But I lucked out with a spot in the indoor press box at BMO Field, though I was right behind a giant pillar. It was hard to sit still and focus on writing, tweeting, and highlight-clipping in such an environment. To give the Toronto crowd credit, that place was rocking. The press box buzzed and shook with every wax and wane of the action on the pitch. It was electrifying, nerve-wracking, and honestly...a little terrifying at times. The moment in which the Sounders secured victory with Roman Torres’ penalty kick, I turned to the only familiar face nearby, Andrew Harvey, and we shook hands with a nod before turning back to our keyboards in a rush to release the news to the world.

We had to wait a bit to get into the Sounders’ locker room, the chill of the hallway combined with the rumble from behind the door to make the anticipation nearly unbearable. But as we were finally allowed in, champagne hit me on the face from an unknown celebrator and I moved through the throngs to get to whoever was being interviewed first—I have no idea who it was, or anything else that really happened in the tarp-covered locker room. Eventually we made our way back to the hotel after some celebratory drinks, realizing that it was only three hours before the airport. Jeremiah and I did a live Q&A from the hotel, deprived of sleep and delirious from the match, then I wrote something (I definitely don’t remember what that was at this point), and then I took a precarious Uber ride to the airport at 5am. Despite a surprisingly comfortable flight from Toronto to Vancouver, I got home and promptly got very sick for like a week. It had been quite the year.

Fast forward to 2017, and things were quite different—for a lot of reasons. Despite having covered the Sounders for most of the season, I had recently taken a full-time job at Electronic Arts in downtown Seattle. Despite that, I continued to cover as many matches as I could, and when the opportunity to go to Toronto again to cover round 2 between the two clubs, I leaped at the chance. It started poorly after my luggage went missing. I had to go , buy some random fresh clothes in downtown Toronto, desperately trying to layer in the freezing cold yet again. Things were actually much more laid back than in 2016, perhaps because everyone felt like an old hand at this. I was initially given an outdoor press box seat, but got lucky when I found an absent seat inside to take over before kickoff. Everything is kind of a blur from there, I don’t really even remember much about the match or the subsequent press conference and interviews. Everyone was bummed out, reporters included, and we eventually got back on the saddest flight ever with Sounders staff and families, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that it was a huge sigh of relief to get back to Seattle.

Fast forward AGAIN, two years later, and things are different yet again. I’m no longer directly covering the Sounders, but I’m still around this wonderful website when I can be, and my new job as Director of Marketing & Digital Media for Washington Youth Soccer lets me get as involved with events like this as much as I want. Though I did get to put my reporting hat on this week to get some quotes from Schmetzer and his players, it’s still not the same. I’ll be sitting in the upper deck with my wife and 15-month-old son, enjoying the game with a beer in my hand and my voice at full volume. It’s not the same as it was in 2016 or 2017, but I’m not the same person I was during those games either. I’m in a different place this year, just like the match itself. I’m glad the memories will be different, and I can’t wait to tell my son how he was at such a historic event—no matter what the outcome ends up being.