Sounders Return Home for Championship Celebration

Eight years is a long time for a sports fan. Eight years ago, the Mariners looked to improve upon a 61-101 season. Eight years ago, the Seahawks said goodbye to Mike Holmgren and held the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft. Eight years ago today, the Seattle Sounders FC played a Major League Soccer (MLS) match for the first time.

On March 19, 2009, a sellout crowd of 32,523 at then-called Qwest Field watched Fredy Montero score twice and local-legend Kasey Keller record a clean sheet as Seattle won 3-0 over the New York Red Bulls in the club's inaugural match.

Today, the Sounders will unveil a banner reading "2016 MLS Cup Champions" under the arches of CenturyLink Field and celebrate a title with a stadium full of supporters- set to be the largest attended home-opener in club history. Oh, how times have changed.

In a case of, "some things change and some stay the same", the Red Bulls once again find themselves in Seattle. After starting the season 2-0-0 with wins in Atlanta and against Colorado, New York looks to stay atop the Eastern Conference and early Supporter's Shield standings. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. today on Fox Sports 1.

However, today is Seattle's day. Facing the same team eight years to the day after the club's first match, all while celebrating a championship? Emotions will run high, both on the field and in the stands.

"Just knowing that I've been in that stadium so many times as a fan and knowing how passionate this city is for their sports and for the Sounders, to be a part of that first team to bring that championship home is so special and this game will be a good testament to that," Jordan Morris said with Sports Radio KJR's Ian Furness on Wednesday.

Morris, a Mercer Island native who grew up as a fan of the Sounders attending matches at CenturyLink, acknowledges the "crazy" and "fast" last few months it has been since winning the MLS Cup in December.

"Throughout the off-season I don't think it really sunk in," Morris said. "We had a dinner last night with the team to kind of celebrate the last year and we watched this video and it hit me a little bit that we just won the MLS Cup...We're really excited to share that with the fans."

Head Coach Brian Schmetzer, also from Seattle, attended Nathan Hale High School and joined the Seattle Sounders of the North American Soccer League (NASL) in 1980 after graduating. His first head coaching job came with the Sounders in the United Soccer League's First Division in 2002. Schmetzer held the position until becoming an assistant with Sounders FC in 2008.

After taking over for Sigi Schmid as Interim Head Coach of a 6-12-2 Seattle team last July, Schmetzer guided his hometown club to an improbable playoff berth and eventual MLS Cup title. Today, he will join in watching a championship banner unveiled for the team he grew up playing for.

"It still is amazing to me to see the support that we get," Schmetzer said at Friday's Sounders Media Day. "But then when I reflect when I'm at home and I'm thinking back to the '70s at Memorial Stadium and the '80s at the Kingdome, I can see why it's happening now...Soccer is a growing sport."

The pre-match celebrations will include the Emerald City Supporters' March to the Match, led by Sounders FC Owner Drew Carey and defender Brad Evans with the MLS Cup trophy at 3:00 p.m. and a life-size MLS Cup replica fans can take pictures with inside the stadium. Everyone attending the match are encouraged to arrive early.

After the celebrations conclude and the banner is unveiled, the Sounders (0-1-1) will then play their third MLS match of the season. 2016 is over, 2017 is here, and the club is still looking for their first victory of the season.

On Wednesday, the MLS Disciplinary Committee suspended Roman Torres, who hit the final penalty kick to win the MLS Cup in December, for violent conduct in the 37th minute of Seattle's 2-2 draw in Montreal last week. Gustav Svensson, who started at right back each of the last two weeks, will reportedly start at centerback in place of Torres.

Defender Oniel Fisher, who played the final 32 minutes against Montreal, will likely start at right fullback opposite Joevin Jones if the report is correct.

"He's a young kid that's got some pace," Schmetzer said. "Oniel is a kind of kid who really can have a breakout year, but it's up to him. There's an opportunity there for him so his performance come Sunday will go a long way to telling all of us where he wants to go with his career."

Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro, Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan, Chad Marshall, Stefan Frei, Jones and Morris are all expected to start as well, with the last midfielder spot in question. Alvaro Fernandez started the season-opener against Houston before Harry Shipp started last week.

No matter the result, Sunday will be an emotional day for every team member and fan in attendance. A championship will be celebrated, a banner will be unveiled and a match will be played. Whether you'll need a tissue or a drink, prepare according, Sounders supporters.

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