SEATTLE -- Partway through a downtown Sounders victory parade Tuesday afternoon, head coach Brian Schmetzer got off the double-decker bus he'd been riding on with players and began high-fiving some of the thousands of fans gathered along the route.
The connection between the team and its supporters has been much discussed before, during and after the Sounders won the MLS Cup championship at home Sunday in front of a record partisan crowd of more than 69,000. Now, the hometown coach from Lake City, who first joined the North American Soccer League version of the Sounders as a player straight out of Nathan Hale High School roughly 40 years ago, was celebrating one-on-one with others who've come to identify with all things Rave Green.
Among those Schmetzer connected with were parade-watchers Henry Melendez, 44, a Federal Way restaurateur who grew up a diehard soccer fan in his native Honduras and attended Tuesday's celebrations with his Seattle-born sons Wesley, 10, and Johanssen, 7. The boys proudly displayed the Sounders scarves Schmetzer had stopped to autograph for them.
"That was amazing," Wesley said.
Melendez had to help run his family's restaurant Sunday but settled for watching the 3-1 win over Toronto FC on a television set there.
"To be honest with you, when they pulled it off against LAFC, I thought 'We got this,' " Melendez said of the team's stunning road upset in the Western Conference final. "The toughest opponent was going to be that one."
Indeed, when Toronto then won its conference final in an upset to secure the Sounders their first chance at an MLS Cup final home game, the focus quickly shifted to the fans as much as the on-field contest itself. And they didn't disappoint, from a raucous pregame rally that drew more than 10,000 people and clogged Pioneer Square streets, to a thunderous crowd inside the stadium that produced some of the loudest cheering ever recorded at a sporting event anywhere.
And on Tuesday, after the Emerald City Supporters group led a procession that included the team's Sound Wave marching band and two open-air, Sounders green buses – carrying players and families in one and coaches and support staff in the other – up several blocks of 4th Avenue past thousands of flag-waving fans, some cheering out of office windows, the parade turned towards Seattle Center. There, on the public lawn beyond where the KeyArena rebuild is taking place, thousands more fans gathered before a concert stage for a victory rally.
There was a shortage of marquee player names at the event, with numerous Sounders called up for duty with various national teams. That meant MLS Cup Most Valuable Player Victor Rodriguez was a no-show, as were fellow championship game goal-scorers Raul Rudiaz and Kelvin Leerdam, Gustav Svensson – who had two assists – and fan favorites Jordan Morris, Roman Torres, Brad Smith, Nouhou and Jordy Delem.
Some of the absentees left prerecorded messages thanking fans on a giant video screen.