When Manchester United comes through the saloon doors, heads turn, the barkeep reaches for the premium whiskey, and the dancing girls primp.
The Sounders? Well, they’re at the piano, playing hard.
Addressing the March to the Match, the Sounders’ pre-game ritual in Pioneer Square, David Gill, Man U’s chief executive, stepped onto a podium on a balmy Wednesday night, took the mic and said the predictably nice things about Seattle’s hospitality.
Then he looked over at the musicians, Sound Wave, the band that leads the parade to the stadium.
“We don’t have a band,” he said in an acquisitive tone. Expect the London Philharmonic at Man U’s home opener this fall at Old Trafford.
Following him to the podium was one the franchise’s most renowned players, Bryan Robson, who starred from 1981-94, including seven years as captain. Now the team’s “global ambassador,” Robson also said nice things about Seattle.
Then with a smile, he dropped the hammer:
“Remember, we’re here to whip your butts.”
Even if it’s a friendly, the world’s most valued sports franchise never leaves home without its power and tradition.
Goals from the two most celebrated players, Michael Owen in the first half and an astonishing three from Wayne Rooney in 21 minutes of the second half, whipped the Sounders 7-0. Robson tried to tell us.
No matter. At least it wasn’t troubling to Sounders majority owner Joe Roth. Walking with the crowd to the game, and unaware of the pending pounding, Roth said he heard fan complaints from last year about scheduling three mid-level friendlies.
So the decision was made for a single, big friendly. He led the negotiation and wrote the check to make sure Seattle was one of the five stops on Man U’s preseason tour of America. Nine months ago, he booked 85 rooms at a downtown hotel to accommodate the traveling party and wrote another check to install natural grass over the Clink’s artificial stuff.
Roth and the Sounders were rewarded with a 67,052 patrons, the largest crowd in Northwest history to to watch a soccer match.
“We’ve had Barcelona, Chelsea and now Man U,” he said, referring to the brand-name friendlies in the Sounders’ first three MLS years. “I’m going after Real Madrid next year.”
For that one, he might whisper to coach Sigi Schmid to leave in the starters awhile longer.
Down 1-0 at the half with multiple missed chances to tie or lead, Schmid stuck with the pre-game plan to reward all roster players with some minutes in the second half against the sport’s most storied team.
“It was the most embarrassing loss I’ve been associated with,” Schmid said, more sad than angry. “We wanted to reward everybody. In retrospect, that was a mistake.
“We need to apologize to the fans. We embarrassed ourselves in the second half. ”
Feel free to take cattails to yourself, coach, but really, it wasn’t that bad. Well, it was bad, but mostly in a party poop sort of way, not anything that should stay on one’s criminal record.
When Manchester can bring Rooney, one of the world’s greatest players, off the bench for the second half, and the Sounders counter with, say, the redoubtable Lamar Neagle, well, there’s really nothing to do but cringe.
Still, Schmid went on, describing the second half defense as “slow,” “horrendous” and “atrocious.” OK, OK, send them to Voldemort’s basement.
The notion of rewarding players in an exhibition game with play against a team many grew up idolizing was a perfectly reasonable way to spend a pleasant summer evening. Jeez, Rooney is so good that he pretty much stood in the same general area of the pitch and let his precision-marksman teammates set him up for three kills against the disorganized youngsters.
And besides, the first-team offense still hasn’t scored against Barcelona, Chelsea and Man U. As Mariners manager Eric Wedge says a lot these days, you need to score to win.
“The (final) score didn’t reflect the chances they had,” said Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary Man U boss, politely applying a Band-Aid to Schmid’s wound. “I was pleased with our attack and fitness.”
Asked by an international reporter what exactly was the purpose of scheduling such a mismatch with obviously inferior MLS opponents, Ferguson was unfazed.
“It’s two-fold,” he said. “We think the United States is an emerging country in football, and it’s a chance to increase our support base . . . to spread the gospel of romance and history of the club.”
Indeed it is a merchandising maneuver. But what isn’t these days? And as far as is known, no one in the many thousands wearing Man U’s red gear in the stadium was coerced into the choice of apparel or entertainment. Nor were there threats issued to those colored in the native green.
For all of them, this was an exuberant evening of sporting amusement. As for the Sounders players, last season not only did they play three friendlies, they seemed to play in every kind of tournament — U.S. Open Cup, Wimbledon, Masters, Daytona 500.
This season they played a single friendly, against the coolest team in the world. They lost by a touchdown. Probably only one guy will long remember it.
We recommend to him to get over it.
Editor’s note: This post was updated at 1:29 a.m.