Soccer fandom can be a strange thing. Often it’s developed in a setting close to home, through a family member’s rooting interest or friendship, but sometimes you randomly discover a club and it leaves a lasting impression. That was the case when I came across the Seattle Sounders for the first time on the video game FIFA 13. I had heard of Major League Soccer before — because of David Beckham, obviously — but fandom eluded me until I played with the LA Galaxy against the Sounders.
I didn’t know who they were, what the club stood for, or even where Seattle was on a map, but something just clicked. Whether it was the wacky kits, the badass crest, or a subconscious yearning to support a new club I don’t recall, but one thing was certain, I was hooked.
So, there I was; 13 years old, living in a tiny village in Germany, actively rooting for a team 5,000 miles away. I’m one of millions who experience the phenomenon of feeling attached to a club on the other side of the planet. Americans who support European teams will know the struggle all too well. Waking up at ungodly hours to yell at your television, relinquishing vast sums of money on international shipping, and sometimes even being told that you are not a proper supporter; it can be exhausting (and expensive), but that’s soccer fandom.
The first two years of my support were mainly spent learning about the history of the club and following along with highlight compilations. In late 2015, through the power of the internet, I finally found a way to watch the boys properly and I have only missed a dozen or so games since, mainly because of school. Matches usually kick off in the wee hours of the morning — most start at around 4 AM — so the upcoming MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando will be a welcome change of pace. I remember tightly gripping the armrest of my chair and letting out an audible gasp of excitement at 3 in the morning when Román Torres converted the all-important penalty in 2016. It’s hard celebrating a championship when you don’t want to wake people up!
Inevitably, when you start supporting a new team, you also become familiar with the league and the country’s soccer culture. What began as a casual interest in the rest of MLS, has slowly become an obsession. I have grown to love the Extratime podcast and, of course, this very website, consuming not just MLS content but absorbing every piece of information related to the general state of soccer in the United States — NWSL, USL, NPSL, you name it.
I remember the moment that made me go, “Holy crap, I love this club!” like it was yesterday. Late 2015, against the Galaxy in the playoffs. With the game tied at 2-2, LA fails to clear the danger and the ball bounces to the edge of the box where Erik Friberg is waiting, ready to pounce. The taco-loving Swede hit that ball so sweetly, on his weak foot no less, and it went flying into the top corner, leaving Donovan Ricketts rooted to spot. An incredible goal, with amazing celebrations and, of course, it being the winner to knock the Galaxy out of the playoffs made it all the more satisfying.
Being unable to physically go to Sounders games and witness moments like Friberg’s goal in person has never bothered me. I shed just as many tears when we won MLS Cup as everyone else. I love Oba, Jorstian Mordan, and all the other tough kids past and present just as much as everyone else. And even though I’m only there in spirit, I feel just as connected to the Seattle Sounders as everyone else. That’s the beauty of soccer fandom. You don’t have to be physically present to be part of something bigger.