An intimate look into the fan experience at the 2019 MLS Cup in Seattle, which for the third time in four years saw the Sounders and Toronto FC go head-to-head.
Major finals don’t come to Seattle. It’s too small-market for the Super Bowl, the Mariners are…the Mariners, and the NBA up and left. Last Sunday’s MLS Cup wasn’t simply about the opportunity to win a championship at home — it was a chance to celebrate at home. This was the Sounders’ third MLS Cup appearance, yet only their first time hosting, and you could tell from the palpable buzz in and around CenturyLink Field. (Seattle played host to the 2009 final between Real Salt Lake and LA Galaxy, but that was when the match’s venue was a neutral site selected prior to the season’s start.)
Of course, the fact that the Sounders were playing in front of their home supporters was exciting enough, but it was Toronto again — the third time these two clubs have met in the finals in four years. The rest of the country may have wanted an Atlanta–LAFC final, but this rubber match seemed to be predestined, and added an extra jovial sense amongst both sets of fans.
The official Toronto supporters’ section made their march into the stadium around 9 a.m. They were loud, proud, and singing the entire time. As I walked up to them decked out in Sounders gear, the razzing started, but it was only ever that. I even got high fives. I spoke to two other fans later on, and they summed up the intense yet respectful rivalry pretty eloquently.
“At the end of the day these two organizations just win when it matters and you have to respect that. After 2017 everyone was asking for another final between us, and I wanted one in Seattle. You have to host one, you deserve it.”
My interactions with TFC fans ended in, “See you next year. Your place or mine?” As if it’s old friends getting together to share stories and a drink.
It didn’t feel real until we arrived at Occidental Square, about half a mile from the stadium, for the pregame festivities. It was Sunday morning, three hours before game time, and the area was flooded with people. The amount of green was overwhelming, and there was no way I was getting near the stage. Moving was more difficult here than anywhere in the stadium. Everyone wanted to be able to say “I was there.”
Entering the stadium itself was a reminder of how today was different from any other Sounders match. The Seahawks never truly leave CenturyLink Field — only so many banners, signs and graphics can be changed. On Sunday, however, none of those were visible.
For 15 years, the entirety of my adult life, my family has been Sounders season ticket holders in section 113. When we first started in the USL days you could only sit on this side of the lower bowl and the Emerald City Supporters were in the front of our section. We are right at the 18-yard box, about halfway up the bowl. The seats aren’t amazing but they’re ours. It’s been surreal to have the same vantage point of the Sounders from the USL to now, hoisting the Cup in front of 69,000-plus fans. Until next year Toronto. Same place, same time.
Photos by Kyle Scoble.