It wasn’t enough that the Sounders were leading the Western Conference, had six selections to the MLS All-Star Game and just set an MLS record by winning three road games in a row over seven days.
They wanted to party too.
So on a sublime Sunday of weather perfection, the Sounders invited women, cranked up the tunes with a dozen bands in the parking lot, brought in food trucks and invented something called The PNW Experience, which included a salute to Seattle rock legend Jimi Hendrix. They even emulated his electric-guitar version of the national anthem.
The party crowd drew 45,737, likely the largest actual crowd to attend a Seattle sports event in person since the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted (Seahawks exhibitions don’t announce no-shows).
“It was a big day for sports, and in the city of Seattle,” said Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer.
Except for one thing: They lost 2-0 to the Timbers, the rivals they blasted so ferociously, 6-2, two weeks earlier in Portland that coach Giovanni Savarese felt compelled post-game to apologize to whimpering fans for giving up the most goals at home since the club’s 1975 inception.
Sunday became the classic example of a salty old sports phrase that begins, “Payback . . .”
The single-ticket doubleheader, apparently unique in North American soccer history, started auspiciously enough for Seattle when OL Reign, up from their smaller Tacoma home of Cheney Stadium, drew 27,248, the largest crowd in National Women’s Soccer League history, to their afternoon matinee.
International soccer star Megan Rapinoe entertained with both goals in a 2-1 win over the league-leading Portland Thorns FC, who hadn’t lost in their previous 10 games.
Then came the evening show. Party pooped.
The Sounders (12-4-6) dorked up defensive clearances that twice created empty-net scores for underdog Portland (8-10-3), which is unbeaten in its last six MLS matches in Seattle. The 2-0 triumph sucked so much wind out of the stadium that on previously placid Puget Sound, whitecaps were visible.
Instead of net, the Sounders drew wood on at least four attempts on goal, adding to the absurdity of falling to a team that has lost by at least three goals five times this season.
“We just were trying in the wrong places, or at the wrong moments,” said Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer. “When you give your opponent goals, the league is too hard. It’s too much parity.”
Conversely, the Reign seemed in command from the start, Rapinoe scoring twice in the first half, one on a penalty kick. Never shy about speaking her mind, Rapinoe after the game talked about playing more games at the big house, saying it was overdue.
“I think of all the years past, where we consistently have some the best players in the world on this team,” she said, “and for this to be only the first time that we get to play in a stadium like this — and played at the Sounders stadium — it’s sort of bittersweet. But hopefully this is a sign of things going forward.
“I think we deserve to play in a bigger stadium, this stadium. Obviously, the fans loved it. We put on a good show. It’s always so much better to be able to play in front of people, then get that extra boost of a big rivalry to experience in your stadium. Overall, I’m very happy with the (attendance) numbers. The two organizations should to try and make this one a more regular thing. The fans would come back, I have no doubt.
“We could start a petition to just like play here. We’re gonna start it.”
While Schmetzer has no influence in such matters, it sounded as if he would sign the petition.
“I loved having the Reign here, I loved having them come and bring the energy into the building,” he said, mentioning both he and his players broke away from pre-game prep to watch parts of the Reign-Thorns match from the tunnel or sidelines, or on TV. “I would hope, or would like to see, more opportunities to share the field with the Reign. I thought it was a great event today.”
In a story on the team’s site, Senior Vice President of Business Operations & Marketing and former player Taylor Graham said the idea for a doubleheader has been in the works for more than two years.
“The foundation was in place,” Graham said. “Obviously a ton has changed in the course of action, but the appetite has always been there, and the relationships have always been there. Honestly, with the break with the pandemic, with 2021 being an Olympic year, and a return to stadiums for the first time in a long time, the opportunity grew.”
Also, the Reign (8-7-1) has won five consecutive games against Portland (10-4). Seems like some folks around the Loo Sunday knew how to run a rivalry.