Wednesday, March 18, at the lobby elevator of the Hyatt in downtown Seattle -- here's how it went down. I just checked into the hotel and was heading up to my room. As I entered the elevator, I held the door open for an elderly couple who happened to be wearing Seattle Sounders shirts. On our way up, I asked them, "Are you here for the game tomorrow night?" They both put on huge smiles and said they were, at which point the lovely lady says, "The Sounders are the best team in the A-League!"
Now, I wish there had been a microphone in my thought process to catch the split second that it took me to decide whether I should let this one go. Too much potential, so I got right into it. I asked them whether they knew who the Sounders were playing. (No, they didn't.) I told them they were playing my team, Manchester United, at which point the nice man raised an eyebrow and said, "I thought they were from Europe or Asia somewhere."
I told him that we, Manchester United, are, but dominated Europe so easily that we decided to join the A-League for some real competition against the likes of the Sounders. This news apparently whipped up frenzy among the couple as they frantically searched for a pen for my autograph. As we reached their floor, they asked if I would sign their shirts and various papers from her pocket book. I signed them all "With Love and Respect, Drew Carey" and waved as the doors closed. I love the American soccer fan.
Sitting in my hotel room on the morning of the season opener, I felt like a rookie again. I wanted the game to start so badly, I thought I would have an anxiety attack. I watched NCAA basketball all day -- with a trip to the bookstore thrown in -- and then it was time for our pregame meal and game meeting. As coach Osorio began his spiel, it was instantly obvious how passionate and driven he is. I've read two Bob Knight books and three Vince Lombardi books, and I'd say he was on the same level as those two legendary motivators.
Out of the meeting, I sprinted to my room in a fit of motivation. Soon, we got on the bus and headed to the stadium. As I stared out the window onto the streets of Seattle -- while rocking out to Jay-Z and Linkin Park -- I began to notice quite a few green Sounders jerseys. By the time we were a block from Quest Field, it seemed that everyone was wearing one. It was very clear now that this was going to be a good environment to play in -- a huge understatement, as it turned out.
Coming out of the locker room and entering the tunnel leading to the field was exciting because after two months of preseason, the season was finally here. As usual, per league rules, we have to be in the tunnel at a certain time (always way too early). So as we were loitering under the stadium for 6 or 7 minutes, I was yelling and cursing at the ref to get on with it. It was so loud, he couldn't hear me.
Walking out onto the field was something that every person in the world should be able to experience once in their lifetime. The sound was comparable to a 747 taking off and the thousands upon thousands of scarves being held overhead will be a snapshot in my mind forever. Funny side note: As we approached midfield, Drew Carey was standing 10 feet from me with a huge smile, and I yelled to him "Cleveland sucks!" (For those of you who never watched "The Drew Carey Show," you won't get it.)
A quick huddle followed with a final word from our captain, Juan Pablo Angel, at which time he made a point to welcome me back to New York. I thought that was a nice touch on the occasion. The whistle blew, and then all hell broke loose. Everything we worked on for the past two months seemed to be forgotten. The results against great teams in Argentina didn't mean anything in that moment. Seattle scored two goals midway through the first half and was taking it to us by the second. I remember thinking that I had never run backward this much in a game. We just couldn't get in a groove.
The second half really welcomed me back to New York, as I had my pocket picked at midfield, which resulted in a goal. The ball was played back to me, and I noticed the forward (Fredy Montero) closing me down. His angle instinctively told me to take a half touch forward to throw his momentum to the left, then cut it back and we're out the other side. It's a play I've done hundreds of times, but as soon as I took the touch, I knew it was a bad one. Before I could get a curse out of my mouth, he was one-on-one with the goalie. I remember after he scored hearing the roar of the crowd and thinking, "This is a beautiful sound in an ugly situation."
If there is one thing I learned last Thursday night, it's this: 20 years from now I probably won't remember the score of that game, but I will definitely remember the old couple in the elevator and telling Drew Carey that Cleveland sucks. 'Til next time, swear at a ref for me.
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