Wishing calamity on your rivals is a tale as old as time, but up until now, there has been a mutual understanding among MLS clubs that we pull for each other in this Concacaf clown show. Fans of MLS clubs from all over genuinely wished the best for RSL in 2011, just as they did later for Montréal, TFC, and LAFC.
But when the Sounders took to the field against Pumas UNAM for all the regional marbles, while the Sounders were clearly ecstatic, the league-wide fan support was muted. A quick trip down one of those dark digital alleys outside your algorithm-curated bliss will give you the full picture. Sounders are not a team that evokes lukewarm responses. This club is life-giving perfume or the stench of death, to borrow a phrase, depending entirely on your predilections. And I don’t think it’s any mystery why.
Now and then over the years, Brian Schmetzer has let slip what he means when he talks about “the spirit” of a club. The spirit, he says, is the relationship between its fans and its players. The way they relate, and the stance they take on each other, this is the spirit. The converse is also true, if those two key components don’t interact, there is no spirit. The club is spirit-less.
But there is another property of spirit apart from whether it simply exists or not, and that is the shape the relation takes. Is the spirit bad or good? Is it healthy or sick? Is it loyal and steady or fickle and flighty? Is it agreeable, inoffensive, and generally harmless, or is it uncomfortable, maybe even insufferable?
No one can credibly argue that the Sounders spirit is lacking. The fans and players were certainly doing some relating when nearly 70,000 showed up to witness the players beat Pumas 3-0 in the most important game in club history. We partied, sang songs, hugged, cried, and sprayed champagne on each other. The team won and it was really, truly great. For us.
But stop for a minute and consider the following examples:
- It’s annoying to lose and then see Kelyn Rowe mean-mugging with Eminem hair and a rave green fake fur pimp coat.
- It’s salt in the wound to have one of your team’s best-ever midfielders run his contract down only to join a conference rival for the chance to “win trophies”, and then win them.
- It’s really unpleasant to be released into space around the right edge only for that space to become a suffocating, lightless vacuum as Nouhou seemingly walls you off in all directions.
- It’s infuriating to have Cristian Roldan beat you to the ball by a toe’s length in the 96’ to breathe life into a tie that you should have killed off.
- It is irritating to chase shadows around as Albert Rusnák and João Paulo matador the midfield. It’s even worse when you chop off one of those heads and another grows back, only this time he’s from Alaska, fearless, and 16 years old.
- It’s gut-wrenching to have Nico Lodeiro spike the proverbial football in your face after beating you from the spot for second time in one game.
- And it’s nearly unbearable to watch your greatest enemies and regional rivals equal, then surpass, and then go lightyears beyond your club’s greatest ever achievement.
This list could continue indefinitely. The stuffed ballots in the Goal of the Week polls. A million sarcastic responses to opposing team tweets, our call and response chants, the league’s best tifo displays, the obnoxious team colors, the banner unveilings timed conveniently for when the little brothers are in town, the F-bombs from our coach and our hype man, the massive crowds, the “L” videos from the digital team, the “Seattle invented _______” jokes, and on and on. All of the beautiful pettiness, all the endzone dances. It all serves to endear ourselves to each other and be insufferable to those who aren’t us.
And it is this that explains the underpowered MLS bandwagon this go around. We simply didn’t need them this time, and they understood that. We have a spirit already, and we need neither validation nor motivation from elsewhere. The inner drive of the Sounders has been compelling us toward this goal for years already. This trophy doesn’t belong to MLS — no matter how many times they want to frame it that way — because it’s ours, first, foremost, and only. They’re welcome to join in on the fun, but it will be on our terms.
The spirit of the Sounders is not interested in showcasing ourselves as a mere league representative. We are focused inward. We resist instant gratification; we know there are no shortcuts to success. We promote from within, and invest within, and that, perhaps counterintuitively, results in pulling people toward us. Our biggest stars, in their biggest moments, choose to elevate our young players. When we’re praised, we shine the spotlight on those around us. When there’s outside pressure, we double down on our commitments to each other, and in the process find ourselves — if not universally loved — globally relevant. We fight for each other because we want the best for each other. And when our attempts fail, you can expect another Rave Green trench rush full of new recruits will follow in earnest shortly, accompanied by the ghosts of those who came before.
This is the insufferable spirit of this club. Our fans offer up the best they have, and our players and staff take it and give theirs right back. And the beautiful thing is, the more insufferable we are, the more winning comes along with it. So continue to be insufferable, Sounders fans. Turn it up to 11. Give your best, support your club, and rest assured knowing that the club is going to meet us halfway.