“What are you doing with those turkeys?”
That was the question former Sounders coach Alan Hinton used to get when he went back to England. None of his compatriots could figure out why he was coaching a team in a league that lacked any international cachet.
Hinton was a former national-team player for one of the world’s great soccer powers, and now he was managing a squad in the North American Soccer League. Why?
Because he saw a day like Sunday coming.
“This was my hope. That’s why I came here in many ways,” said Hinton, who coached the Sounders from 1980-82 in the NASL and in 1994 in the United Soccer Leagues first division. “This is the biggest event in Seattle soccer history.”
Sunday’s MLS Cup between Seattle and Toronto FC is more than just an opportunity for the Sounders to capture their second championship. It is the apex of 45 years of history. Hinton may have envisioned a day such as this, but few others could have — even if they played on or grew up cheering for the team.
Former goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann is among those floored by the evolution of the Sounders. He played for the USL version of the club from 1994-96, and the MLS iteration from 2012-14 but never experienced the atmosphere expected Sunday.
Once it was clear Seattle was hosting, CenturyLink Field sold out almost instantly. Tickets on seatgeek.com are going for thousands of dollars. Hahnemann wants to be ticked about the price surge, but can’t help but label it “awesome.”
“To be honest, I’m slightly jealous,” Hahnemann said. “I didn’t think this was remotely possible.”
The NASL version of the Sounders were founded in 1974 and lasted till 1983. The USL version formed in 1994 and ran through 2008, the year before the Sounders joined MLS.
Sounders executive and Edmonds native Chris Henderson never got to wear the uniform of the team that employs him, but he rarely missed a chance to cheer as a kid.
Long before any of his 79 appearances for the U.S. national team, Henderson would root for players such as Tommy Hutchison and Steve Buttle at the Kingdome with his family. He said he always felt connected with the players as a kid and recalls being wowed by their British accents.
But for the team he grew up watching to evolve into what it is now has him teeming with pride.
“To be able to have the next version of the Sounders, keeping the name alive, the fans picked the name — to keep it the same and keep the tradition, it just brings me back to ‘we have this history in this city,’” Henderson said. “My parents were big fans of the game, I’m a fan of the game, my kids are fans. It’s generational. To be able to now have probably the biggest game in Seattle soccer history and pack the stadium in minutes, it just shows how important this club is to the city.”
Seattle has hosted soccer matches featuring the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams. Lionel Messi was here with Argentina for the Copa America Centenario in 2016. But the MLS Cup is something the Emerald City can call its own — something that’s been four-plus decades in the making.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer might embody the team more so than anybody who’s ever lived. The Seattle native played for the NASL Sounders the early 1980s and again for the USL Sounders in 1994. He coached the USL Sounders for six years before coming on as an assistant for the MLS team, and took over the MLS Sounders the year they won the MLS Cup in 2016. Schmetzer has even been an assistant coach for the Tacoma Stars and the Seattle SeaDogs.
So seeing MLS’s marquee event come to his hometown? It’s not going to get much better.
“I skipped school when the Sonics had their parade. I was there for the Seahawks celebrating them with them. Being a Seattle guy, I’m really proud of what the organization has accomplished,” Schmetzer said. “This history has a long tradition of being a successful franchise. And this right now is a pretty high point for all of us that put in the work back in the 70s, 80s, the lean years in the early 2000s. … This is all a culmination for the people who stayed here.”
After Sunday’s match, folks will either refer to the Sounders as two-time MLS champions or two-time MLS runners-up. But nobody will call them are turkeys.
Matt Calkins: email@example.com; on Twitter: @matt_calkins. Matt Calkins joined The Seattle Times in August 2015 as a sports columnist after three years at the San Diego Union Tribune. Never afraid to take a stand or go off the beaten path, Matt enjoys writing about the human condition every bit as much as walk-offs or buzzer-beaters. His mom reads the comments so take it easy on him.