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Sounders have given us something normal

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In a year that was far from normal, we finally have something familiar

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from a longtime reader. We invite others to submit FanPosts and we’ll help amplify some of our favorites.

In a year filled with uncertainty, schedule changes, COVID tests, cancellations, postponed matches, a pointless bubble tournament won by a pointless team (for the life of me, I can not remember who it was), and, somehow, it’s all ended exactly how it should. In a season with the most chaos, the most stress, and the least amount of fans, this outcome just makes sense. What we all just witnessed just makes sense, doesn’t it?

We’ve all been striving for something normal. We’ve all ached and longed for a single slice of the old world, our old lives. We crave precedence, whatever that word even means anymore. Just give me something normal. Give me something that just feels right. Pleas to the gods above us to give us one thing that feels like it used to. One outcome that makes sense, that feels routine.

The Seattle Sounders have done it again. In an unprecedented year, something normal has momentarily returned. In the most normal outcome of 2020, Seattle is returning to the MLS Cup Final, for the fourth time in five seasons. The current kings of the league look to continue their unrelenting reign. Life, at least in terms of MLS, has returned back to normal (if there ever is such a thing in this league).

I struggle fighting the urge to use the D word when describing what we’ve seen transpire in Seattle over the last five seasons. It’s hard to suppress my immediate tendency to shower this Club with praise. To compare them to super clubs in MLS, in other leagues around the world, or even in other sports. Part of that is, do we really know for sure if Seattle is a dynasty? Are we positive that this outcome, in a year riddled with asterisk after asterisk, is the one that puts Seattle over the top?

Most American sports pride themselves on parity. Striving to make the playing field more and more level. MLS’s own version of this is quite possibly the most complicated of the bunch. TAM, SAM, BAM, WHAM, GAM, whatever it is, they’re all mechanisms meant to make MLS more even, to make the squad-building aspect of the game more equitable. It’s a system designed to make a club like the Sounders not able to get away with this. Surely, they can’t keep getting away with this?

Garth Lagerwey seems to have built another Champion. Even if they don’t get the result Saturday, Brian Schmetzer has already said, “they’re a Championship team,” and he’s right. It’s not supposed to be possible to sustain this level of success in MLS, especially in back-to-back seasons, and certainly not over a five-year stretch as the Sounders have. Players are supposed to become too expensive. They’re supposed to have too much interest from other leagues, in other countries, on “bigger” stages.

I spend almost every Sounders home game in the south end, where I’ve been a season ticket holder since the very moment I moved to Seattle. I must be unbearable to watch a match with. Painfully and tragically cynical. I get far too easily frustrated at missed passes, blown chances, referees, and the rest of the lot. I’ve been made a fool many times, my under-the-breath mumbling of “they’re never going to score” or (irrational, and misdirected) “I hate this team” comments eventually making way to joyful screams, standing on chairs, and of course choruses of “Twist and Shout.”

This team loves to surprise me. They love to make a fool of me. Each time more memorable than the last. I so distinctly remember one of the most upsetting Sounders games I’ve ever watched. The one that made me the most upset. The match where I cursed those missed chances and overhit passes the most. I was fuming. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. I walked out more upset than I had felt in ages. The Sounders came back from 3-0 down and miraculously drew 3-3, against the New England Revolution. You remember the game.

I spent much of last year’s final match in agony. I was again, incensed. How could they blow this? How could they play like this? This was supposed to be our day. Not in front of all of these fans, surely. Not on a day that can cement your place in the city, in hearts, in minds. I was beside myself at the notion (albeit far too early to be having these feelings) of watching someone else celebrate on our field, much like I had watched Seattle do in 2016. I’m sure you know how that day ended too.

It’s never easy with this team. It never has been and it never will be. Another chapter of Sounders history with the underlying theme of making it difficult on themselves for dramatic effect. To steal a phrase most commonly used when speaking of their footballing cousin, “They’ve never played a normal game.” Seattle defeated Minnesota by taking the long way round. Missed chances, hit posts, overhit passes, non-reviewed VAR instances, the entire lot.

Seattle has become an inevitability. Not arrogant, just better. When Raul Ruidiaz slid the ball calmly into the net like the chisel-cheeked assassin that he is, the end result of Monday’s Western Conference Final felt preordained. Whether it was before full time, or in the extra time that could have followed, it felt like destiny had reared its head at Lumen Field again. Did you really think this team was going to be beaten at home by two set-piece goals? And did you ever think that victory in this semi-final would ever be easy? Or normal?

I spent most of my Monday night on my couch in agony. I couldn’t believe it when Ruidiaz’s first equalizer was ruled out due to a foul. Obscenities filled my head, and also maybe my entire living room when Jordan Morris hit a rocket off of the crossbar, only for Minnesota to score mere moments later. Will Bruin’s goal hardly moved the needle in my cynical brain. “Good, that’s what you were supposed to do earlier,” I thought, like I have any right to be a harsh critic, or to not believe in this team.

Something began to stir inside of me as the game wore on. I began to get that feeling inside again, a feeling that I knew meant that it was inevitable that this team would make me feel silly. Silly for losing faith, silly for not believing, silly for giving up.

Oh, how I long to have been in those stands tonight. How I wish I would’ve felt that feeling when Raul hit the outside of the post in stoppage time, that slight sink in my stomach saying maybe, just maybe, this isn’t the night. Maybe the magic has run out.

I miss those knots in my stomach, watching Nicolas Lodeiro walk over to take the corner. I miss the roar, I miss that primal feeling of hope as he sets up to deliver the ball into the box, begging for a head wearing Rave Green to meet it, pleading for a last minute goal. Please, my nerves can’t handle extra time.

I miss goals at the other end of the ground. I miss hearing the noise swirling around the stadium and up into the heavens, in one joyful chorus. And I miss ending up four rows in front of where I stood before the ball hits the back of the net. Joy. Euphoria. Seattle Sounders.

The near-post headed goal is perhaps my favorite and most aesthetically pleasing goal in soccer. One man, rising above the rest, gently guiding the ball into the most consequential place on the field. This time, it was Gustav Svensson. The Swedish Super Sub.

On Monday night I sat on my couch laughing in disbelief. I can’t believe they did it again. I should’ve known they would do it again. After all, it was against Minnesota, how else would this result occur? I missed being at home in the stands, I missed that euphoria, and I miss celebrating with my friends that feel like my family.

Sounders are into the MLS Cup Final. Again. They’ll take on Columbus Crew in an attempt to retain their crown, to once again become a team of immortals. The most normal result, in the most unprecedented circumstances, and the most incredible way to get there. It wasn’t quite what I expected, and it doesn’t feel quite the same, but alas, here we are, again. A Cup Final.

This is the most normal I have felt in months.