For a player in Major League Soccer, there is nothing like stepping onto the field at CenturyLink Field for the first time with a crowd of nearly 40,000 fans on opening day to the Sounders FC season.
For six Sounders FC players, Saturday was their first opportunity to be part of the CenturyLink Field experience in a home kit when they played for Seattle in a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City in the MLS season opener. Head Coach Sigi Schmid tried to prepare his new players for what they would feel when they walked out on the field, but it took a firsthand experience for them to know what he meant.
“It was unreal. Sigi warned us before the game that it would be a special moment and it was,” said defender Chad Marshall, who had played three matches at CenturyLink Field as a visitor with the Columbus Crew before coming over in an offseason trade. “Just to take that all in was pretty special. It was pretty cool to get them a ‘W’ too.”
Marshall was part of a Seattle defense that also featured Dylan Remick making his first start for Sounders FC. Seattle limited Kansas City to just nine shots, including just two in the second half.
Behind that defense was goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who posted his first shutout for Seattle in his first regular-season match. For all of the thrill of making three saves to earn the clean sheet, having the support from that crowd made it all the more enjoyable for Frei, who also had a boisterous backing at Toronto FC.
“You can’t really describe it, especially celebrating that goal with 40,000 people,” he said. “It’s amazing, those feelings you have, but to share that with 40,000 people…it amplifies that. You know everybody’s cheering for the exact same reason you are. It’s a fantastic feeling.”
Rounding out the Seattle debutants in the starting lineup were forward Kenny Cooper and midfielder Marco Pappa, who made his return to MLS after a brief stop in Holland with Heerenveen. Pappa played five seasons with the Chicago Fire, where the Guatemalan community made him feel at home at Toyota Park. In Seattle, he has found his new city very welcoming.
“It was a great experience for my football career to see the great fans in Seattle,” Pappa said. “From the beginning I started feeling part of the Sounders family. I’m pretty happy about that.”
Pappa and Cooper combined for seven shots on Saturday, but were unable to find the back of the net. That honor went to Chad Barrett, whose stoppage-time goal was the fifth game-winner to come after the 90-minute mark in nine matches against Kansas City for Sounders FC.
Barrett had notched 44 goals with Chicago, Toronto, the LA Galaxy and New England Revolution, but even for him the game-winning tally was a new adventure.
“I was excited to just be on the bench, you know. The pregame festivities and just to see the crowd and the Emerald City Supporters’ section just yelling the entire game. It’s so loud, and then when I scored I couldn’t even hear myself screaming,” Barrett said. “I was telling the guys that haven’t scored here yet that it’s just an unbelievable feeling, especially with all 40,000 people staying until the very end.”
The goal was set up by newly-minted Homegrown Player Sean Okoli, who had been on the sidelines with the Sounders FC Academy team in 2010 and 2011 before leaving for Wake Forest. Coming on as a late substitute, Okoli made an instant impact on the right flank, using his speed on the ball to get space.
The 21-year-old Federal Way native cherished the end result just as much as the experience on the field.
“It was a great feeling. Seeing the fans going go nuts like that and to have us walkout with three points it just a great feeling,” he said.