The usual 36,000 or so soccer fans will file into Qwest Field this afternoon to watch Sounders FC play the Chicago Fire.
However, that’s about 22,000 fewer than the number that showed up on virtually the same spot exactly 35 years earlier.
On April 9, 1976, a crowd of 58,128 turned out to watch the North American Soccer League’s Seattle Sounders and New York Cosmos play in the first sporting event held in the Kingdome.
In the crowd that day was a kid named Adrian Hanauer, who grew up to become part-owner and general manager of the current Sounders.
“I was 9 or 10 years old, and it was one of those moments that you look back on now and wish you had known (enough) to appreciate what you were seeing,” Hanauer said this week. “But I was excited to see this new stadium, and this big game of soccer, and Pelé.”
That’s right. As if the opening of the domed stadium wasn’t enough, the game also featured the best-known and perhaps best player the game has seen.
And Pelé rose to the occasion, scoring the first and last goals in leading the Cosmos to a 3-1 win. That means Pelé also was the first to score in the Kingdome – although that detail is often mangled in Seattle folklore.
“It’s been kind of nice over the years, people saying, ‘Oh yes, you scored the first goal in the Kingdome,’ ” former Sounder Jimmy Gabriel said this week. “I say, ‘No I didn’t: I scored the third goal.’ ”
Gabriel, who was near the end of a two-decade playing career – he later also coached the Sounders – came off the bench to score that day’s only goal for the home team.
“The ball was on the right wing,” he said. “I think it was Tommy Jenkins who whipped his cross over and a couple of forwards went for it. ... It went over the two players and I got my head to it, and I headed it toward goal and it got in the corner of the goal. The goalkeeper couldn’t get to it. It was a great feeling: 50,000 people (cheering).”
Gabriel, now part of the Sounders’ pregame radio broadcast team, says he doesn’t remember either of the goals Pelé scored that day. But he vividly remembers a near miss from an earlier game at Memorial Stadium.
“I thought he was going to do this, and he did that; and the next thing he was behind me,” Gabriel said. “And luckily for us he hit the ball over the crossbar for once in his life instead of scoring, and we won the game 2-0 in the end. But feeling helpless is not a good thing for a defender or a midfield player. You don’t want to feel helpless, and that move made me feel helpless. I thought, ‘Oh, that was fantastic.’ I was a part of one of Pelé’s brilliant moves – the wrong part.”
Just as the NASL Sounders inevitably left Memorial Stadium to play in the Kingdome, Hanauer says the Kingdome had to give way to Qwest Field before Major League Soccer would come to Seattle.
The Kingdome was imploded in 2000. Qwest Field was built on the same site and opened as Seahawks Stadium in 2002. The USL Sounders moved in in 2003, and the MLS team arrived in 2009.
Hanauer said the Sounders that are expected to play before their 35th consecutive home sellout crowd today continue the legacy of the NASL Sounders that faced Pelé and the Cosmos 35 Aprils ago.
“All the history that goes through this franchise, the organization, that is really what got me back in soccer with the USL team 10 years ago: growing up through the NASL years, the vibe that existed in the city and the stadium,” Hanauer said.
“That opening game in 2009, I had goose bumps and the hair on the back of my neck standing up just because it brought me back to the NASL days.”
chicago fire (1-0-1; 4 points) at sounders FC (0-2-2;2)
1 p.m., Qwest Field
TV: Ch. 5. RADIO: 97.3-FM, 99.3-FM (Spanish).
HEAD TO HEAD: Seattle leads, 2-0-2. The Sounders swept last season. The Sounders visit Chicago on June 4.
TEAM LEADERS: For Chicago – G 2, Diego Chaves; A 1, three players tied; S 8, Marco Pappa; SOG 8, Pappa; GAA 1.50, Sean Johnson. For Seattle – G 1, three players tied; A 1, four players tied; S 14, Fredy Montero; SOG, 10 Montero; GAA 1.25, Kasey Keller.
NOTES: Montero is doubtful because of a wrist injury. ... The Fire was off last week after taking a 3-2 win over Kansas City on March 26. ...Three of Chicago’s four goals have come from its new pair of Uruguayan forwards: Gaston Puerari and Chaves. ... In both games this season Puerari has suffered a foul for which the opponent has been sent off. ... Chicago sometimes morphs from a 4-4-2 formation into a 3-5-2. ... The Sounders are averaging 16 shots a game. Their three goals this season have come over their last 100 minutes of play. ... Sounders forward Nate Jaqua made 92 appearances with the Fire from 2003-06. ... Steve Zakuani, Brad Evans and Leo Gonzalez will appear at Dick’s Sporting Goods at the Landing in Renton from 2-3:30 p.m. Sunday.
QUOTABLE: “It’s really a team that has changed, like, eight of their 11 starting positions. So far they have gotten off to a good start. ... Everybody that has played them so far has taken a red card. We are going to try and avoid that fate. We are looking forward for ourselves to get that first win.” – Coach Sigi Schmid on the Fire.
NEXT: 1 p.m. April 16 at Philadelphia Union. Don Ruiz, staff writer