2022 – Around the World and Close to Home Russia invades Ukraine, igniting a bloody conflict and an exodus of 7 million refugees and influx of aid, both military and humanitarian Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II dies at age 96, following a record 70-year reign and inflation soars to more than 8% worldwide. Kentaji Brown Jackson is confirmed as Supreme Court Justice, which later overturns Roe v Wade after 49 years and gun violence continues to plague America, with a gunman killing 19 elementary students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. Murders increase 17% across Washington state, to a record 394. Amazon begins making over 9,000 staff layoffs, many in the Seattle area. Ten die in a seaplane crash off Whidbey Island and the repaired West Seattle Bridge reopens after 18 months. In sports, after 21 years, the Seattle Mariners end the longest playoff drought in major pro sports. Sue Bird retires after 21 seasons and four WNBA championships with the Seattle Storm and Seahawks star quarterback Russell Wilson is traded to Denver and greeted by boos in his (losing) return to Seattle.
THE WOW FACTOR
The sun would rise over Seattle just as any day. But by nightfall on May 4, 2022, the arc of professional soccer’s development in the city and the continent would be profoundly changed. Denizens descended on Lumen Field in record numbers that evening, all anticipating that history would be made, and mass celebrations set forth. They would not be disappointed, not in the least.
Brian Schmezter’s lifespan mirrored the modern development of the local soccer landscape. As a child he would watch his father go toe to toe on Sundays at Lower Woodland Park with stars of other ethnic teams. In his teens, he would watch our first iteration of the Sounders cultivate fans in greater number, beginning at Memorial Stadium. Schmetzer would eventually play for his hometown teams, become a fan again for the 1994 World Cup and finally take the helm of the Sounders.
As he walked across the field to his bench on this eventful night, he couldn’t help but detect the energy in the building. For several weeks there had been a steady sale of tickets to this Concacaf Champions League final second leg. But when Seattle stunned Pumas with two late goals in Mexico City, seats were snatched in bunches and at a staggering rate.
There would be nearly 70,000 watching in Lumen Field, the most ever to see a CCL match. The entire stadium district had been buzzing for hours before kickoff. One of Schmetzer’s brothers later shared how he felt claustrophobic, being swallowed up by the crowd surging toward the gates following the march to the match.
Usually as the coach strides toward his seat he makes small talk with longtime colleague Tom Dutra and scans the stands to find his wife and other familiar faces. Not this time.
“You could just sense a difference (that night), the atmosphere in the building, the sheer volume of people, the excitement of the people,” said Schmetzer, many months later. “On that walk out my most vivid memory is the wow factor, just understanding that the players and coaching staff and all the people there were living in that moment together. That’s pretty special.”
Roughly two weeks prior, Garth Lagerwey effectively lit the fuse. The CCL final was billed by the club GM as a possible date with immortality, a date witnesses would one day tell their grandchildren about. But that immortality, that making of history, was all dependent on the outcome.
A week earlier, in the opening hour of the first leg, it was shaping up to be a monumental task. Sea-level Seattle trailed 2-nil entering the final 20 minutes at an altitude more than a mile high. Then the Earth tilted. Under extreme duress on enemy turf, Nicolás Lodeiro connected on a pair of penalties, the equalizer coming five minutes into stoppage time. Suddenly May 4 was a winner-take-all date.
Time after time during Sigi Schmid’s tenure as Sounder boss he challenged his troops to make history, and they responded. When Schmetzer succeeded Schmid, that tactic remained in the toolbox.
"I certainly used that for Champions League. 'Look,'" Schmetzer told his team, "'We’re going to be the first in MLS to push this over the line. This is going to be great for us to be the first team to do it. And nobody is going to take that away from us. Whenever you’re the first they can’t take it away from you.'"
One huge, seemingly unrelated, objective may have been achieved before a ball was kicked that night. Representatives of a 2026 FIFA World Cup inspection committee were in the city, seeing a big-match activation firsthand. Between the sheer size and fervor of the crowd, they undoubtedly came away assured Seattle was worthy of hosting matches.
Making history, pushing the boundaries, is something that resonates with those around Washington, and the footy community in particular. Schmetzer clearly remembers the slights he and his young Puget Sound peers endured for years from players hailing from St. Louis, or New Jersey or southern California.
"I had a chip on my shoulder, based on that perception of Washington state soccer players, (because) we’ve produced some pretty damn good players," he said, reeling through names like Peterson, Stock, McAlister, Durgan, and Fry, then adding contemporary talents such as Jordan Morris, DeAndre Yedlin and Cristian Roldan.
"So, when our fan base is in one of those moods where they're doing their 'We invented soccer,' and it rankles people across the country, well there is some truth (to it). We have played an important part in the development of soccer in this country." And now another moment was at hand.
Because his team believed, because they would not back down in Mexico City, even when the coach was inclined to lock-down a one-goal deficit for the return leg – that spirit came aboard the flight home. Just as the sun was setting behind the Olympics, Raúl Ruidíaz’s go-ahead goal sent the huge throng into bedlam. Even if it had lost stalwart João Paulo and Nouhou to injury, Seattle’s advantage was now reflected on the scoreboard.
It was the slightest of advantages, and when in the 65th minute Stefan Frei proved impenetrable with a reflex save, the crowd collectively sent up a roar of relief. Ruidíaz wrote himself into many a future bedtime story when he finished a movement from Morris to Lodeiro, doubling the lead. Finally, in the waning minutes, Lodeiro smashed home the rebound of Morris' shot off the post.
And in that instant, there was no longer any hesitation to claim that continental supremacy and all its spoils, was ours to share. There were mass, primal screams from throats mostly silent and stifled during a years-long pandemic. But now they were unleashed, along with hugs and high-fives with strangers. This was true triumph. History could now be chiseled into stone as well as the trophy sterling.
After congratulating all his players and staff, Schmetzer stood aside, letting the players bask in the glory of their feat. He was, for a few minutes, a spectator and admirer again.
"It’s about those players, it’s not about me," he explained. "I just liked stepping off to the side and letting them enjoy that moment with their teammates. They did something beautiful, a once in a lifetime, great achievement."
The Sounders and their faithful had secured immortality.