Chad Barrett didn’t hear anything. He scored three minutes into extra time on Sunday, and Sounders FC was on its way to a 1-1 tie against the LA Galaxy. The crowd’s response was a cathartic release of energy, so loud the press box swayed, and Barrett didn’t hear any of it. He didn’t even see the fire spewing from behind the goalposts.
Four things he did hear shortly after scoring were voices. First Leo Gonzalez’s congratulations as he hopped down from celebrating with the crowd, and then Osvaldo Alonso, and then Brad Evans and finally Zach Scott.
The Four Horsemen of the Sounders’ MLS era, together again.
MLS is a league of unqualified parity, even amongst the panoply of cap-driven American pro sports. It’s uniquely difficult to keep a nucleus of quality players together in MLS thanks to a bevy of allocation rules and a near constant stream of expansion drafts. Inevitably, players move, continuity is disrupted, lineups change. There is no constant in MLS more inevitable than constant roster churn.
And yet here they were, Scott, Alonso, Gonzalez and Evans together again as starters against the league-leading Galaxy, helping to steer the Sounders to a vital point to inch ever closer to the postseason. None are spring chickens anymore. Alonso is the youngest of the four, and he turns 30 next month. In fact, all three played not insignificant roles on the first Sounders MLS team in 2009. Evans, Scott and Alonso started the franchise’s first ever MLS game in 2009, a rousing 3-0 win over the New York Red Bulls in which Evans scored.
That game meant different things to different players. For Scott, a shot on a bigger stage after starring for the USL Sounders for seven years. For Evans, a chance to make something new after winning the MLS Cup with Columbus Crew SC in 2008. And for Alonso, a new start less than two years after he walked away from the Cuban National Team at the 2007 Gold Cup to defect to the U.S. and start a new life.
When paired with Gonzalez, who played nearly 1,000 minutes in 2009, the four formed the foundation for a nucleus that’s guided Seattle to a winning record every year it’s been in MLS. And as players filtered in and then out again, the four constants haven’t budged.
“I think we’re all close too,” Evans said. “With long preseasons and staying in hotels and long plane flights, I think that tends to bring a group together. Successful teams, it’s easier to have a group that’s more unified. When you’re winning games, everything is a little bit easier. There’s not as much pressure, I guess. It’s a different kind of pressure. Its a consistent to perform pressure, but it’s a little bit different. From that respect, I think something that’s kept us together is we’ve seen it all since day one.
“Things other guys have a problem with, we just kind of laugh at and say, ‘We’ve seen that before.’”
And who could argue? Since 2009, the four have combined to play 595 games for Seattle, a staggering total of 47,486 minutes on the field through the Galaxy game. Alonso leads that pack with 16,485 minutes as a Sounder, and all four players have appeared at least 100 times since 2009. For Scott, Sunday’s game was his 103rd professional appearance in MLS past the age of 29, a towering testament to his longevity and reputation as an ironman.
And they’ve seen just about everything. From massive crowds in Seattle to heated CONCACAF Champions League fixtures in Central America to cup runs to the drudgery of preseason prep work to playoff heartbreak, the foursome is as battle-tested as it gets in MLS.
Evans of all people understands the rarity on offer here. He’s the only one of the four to play with a different club in MLS. He was with the Crew for two seasons in 2007 and 2008 before being whisked away to Seattle in the expansion draft that offseason. Evans worked his way up the ladder to team captain, and he’s played just about every position on the back half of the team sheet since 2009.
The fact that Evans was snatched up in one of those expansion drafts gave him an even greater appreciation for the inherent difficulty involved in keeping a nucleus intact in the league. Especially considering MLS has added six teams since 2009, which included six different expansion drafts.
“I think like my experience coming to Seattle, there are some things that are out of your hands,” Evans said. “There’s been a few expansion drafts. In saying that, I think maybe we would’ve had a few more guys if it wasn’t for those situations. But people tend to move on in their careers, whether it’s from retirement, or another team’s offering something the Sounders couldn’t refuse, or if some guy just wants out and that’s the bottom line. You’re always going to have that. You can’t keep the same group of guys together all the time. It’s just not possible, especially with the salary cap.”
In this case, though, the scenario bucked the trend.
Scott’s perspective as the team’s resident player-historian is particularly unique. No player has ever been grafted onto the fiber of the club quite like Scott, who’s been a Sounder for nearly 15 years through two leagues and a dizzying variety of situations. When Scott and Evans paired together at centerback against the Galaxy, the moment had the feel of history about it.
Scott’s never been one to overplay the significance of the moment, but allowing that to soak in should provide a unique vantage as to how important continuity’s been to the club over the past six years. And beyond.
“It’s great between the four of us, but it’s great from a team perspective as well,” Scott said. “It is a big family. And I know that gets thrown around there a lot, but we’ve watched each other’s kids get older, and we’ve seen other friends come and go. But it’s nice to have four of the same guys who completely understand each other without having to say a word to each other on the field. It’s pretty cool.”
As the rock of the midfield, that time’s been important for Alonso, too. After playing for a year with the Charleston Battery in 2008, Alonso’s found a home in Seattle, which was an important selling point for a player in search of a singular home after he left Cuba. That came full circle last weekend as Alonso’s father visited Seattle for the first time to see his son play. A photo of Alonso’s dad holding a Sounders scarf aloft with the Emerald City Supporters at his back was widely circulated and celebrated.
For a player who’s logged 192 games for Seattle before his 30th birthday, having three teammates along for the entire ride has been something special.
“In soccer it’s difficult to keep everybody together a lot of years,” Alonso said. “I’m lucky to have Brad and Zach and Leo with me since the beginning. I’m very happy to be successful with them. I hope this year we can make the MLS Cup together. Looking back, when we retire we can talk about how we were together a lot of years and won a lot of trophies.”
Indeed, that’s the goal now. The four managed to stay together this long, but age is working against them. Gonzalez is 34 and Scott is 35, and both have finite shelf lives left as pro players. Alonso (29) and Evans (30) are presumably not going anywhere any time soon, but the Galaxy game could well have been the last time all four start at the same time.
Whenever it ends, nobody’s appreciated the ride more than the four men who’ve helped make Sounders FC what it is today. And if an MLS Cup is how they go out?
All the better.
“We are fortunate to be here for a long time,” Gonzalez said. “I know we are the longest (serving) players, but it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the team. You always have to try to be an example to the youngest player, try to convey your experience to the youngest player. The most important is you have to be an example.”