The 2009 season in review - 6th place

(this is the first of a 3 part series previewing the Sounders FC season by reviewing it. confused? great. read on.)

Tonight I put the ticket stub from the FC Dallas game on my shelf, next to the other 14-odd tickets I've gone through since March. Next to them sit an assorted pile of other Sounders FC knicknacks I've accumulated as the inaugural season has gone by. (A Sounders cowbell? Really?) They're probably worth nothing, same as the tickets, but they are tangible reminders of a season that I'll never forget. The sentimental value is far more than the actual product.

That ticket, and the ones next to it, are in a way a microcosm of the season. Sure, the 2009 campaign for the Sounders FC wasn't the best, and a sixth place finish isn't particularly sexy. But it was the first sixth place finish ever. Yes, the tickets aren't worth much more than the 10% off coupon to the team shop printed on the back, but they're the first season's tickets. I'll treasure them forever, as I will this season, much more than I would saving 2 dollars on a Sounders trash bin.

Objectively, it would be hard to make a case for treasuring a season in MLS in which the team placed ahead of only Colorado and the LA Galaxy. For most teams, this is a normal and expected feat. Looking at it from a completely rational point of view, the on-pitch play wasn't the greatest. (Relative to MLS, I mean. You European-only fans can hold your jokes back.) As we expected, it took a while for the team to come together. The defensive line never really did seem to fire on all cylinders, bailed out many times by some timely tackles by President Hurtado and James Riley. But the scoring compensated for that somewhat. I lost count of all the times Jaqua and Montero combined in the area, and their 20 goals between them was nothing to sneeze at. And some of the young guys really stepped up to solidify their places in the starting lineup for years to come - Nyassi and Alonso especially.

There was just never that sense of cohesion. And it showed for the first several games. But something went *click*, eventually, and the early summer months were very promising. I still remember the week in early August where if we had ended the season right then, Seattle would have been in the playoffs. But then a road loss at Salt Lake happened, and another heartbreaking loss on a late goal, and we were back out of the picture. The end of season road trip didn't help, either, losing three straight games against Eastern Conference teams. But by then we were well and truly out of it, and 2009 had dissolved from 'promising' back into 'expansion doldrums". The rational observer would look at the course of the season and regard it as a disappointment.

That's the great thing about sports, though - the complete and utter lack of rationality. Was it logical that my favorite moment of this year, not just in sports, in everything, was walking four blocks through downtown Seattle wearing a garish shade of green singing at the top of my lungs? With thousands more doing the same beside me? Of course not. And yet something stirred in my heart every time I watched 11 men kick a ball around, directed by a Baloo-looking man on the sidelines. It's passion. Pure, nearly unbridled passion. And that's what makes sports, soccer in particular, great. For 90 minutes 15 times a year you can leave all the numbers behind and indulge yourself, along with tens of thousands of your neighbors, in what is truly a beautiful game.

(Granted, the midfield efforts of one Peter Vagenas could hardly be described as 'beautiful'. 'Soul-suckingly depressing' might be a better fit. But let's not ruin the moment.)

So it's true that the season wasn't totally successful. Eight wins is nothing to write home about. Our designated player only appeared in 17 games and tallied but 3 goals. Kasey Keller faced more shots per game than any other keeper in MLS. Le Toux missed a penalty by about 30 feet in that US Open Cup qualifier. Negative numbers all. But not enough to overcome this number - one. As in season number one. I will always remember the 2009 season for reasons that defy statistics and logic.

But if we could just graft Nate Sturgis's one good leg onto Freddy Ljungberg somehow, giving him two functional lower limbs, I think we might just have a shot at the postseason next year. I would treasure that too.

1 comment:

Cornchops said...

Yeah, see? I like this one much better.

I'm thinking the season will probably end up like a Part 2.5.