The more I learn about soccer, the more I appreciate its quirkiness.
Definition of quirky: When a team wins a league championship game without requiring the opposing goalkeeper to make a single meaningful save during 120 minutes of — using the term loosely here — “action.”
Another definition of quirky: When the MVP of the aforementioned championship game decries the penalty-kick shootout rules that produced a fantastic finish to a remarkable season.
“As a goalkeeper, I’ve got to say I’m not a fan of PKs,” Stefan Frei said Saturday night, after he put the Seattle Sounders in position to win with — using the term literally here — a single-handed effort at Toronto.
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“I guess somehow you have to decide the game, but for me, football is a team sport,” Frei continued. “That’s the beauty of it, and it sucks that it has to come down to an individual.”
As a late arrival to the party, still challenged to grasp the beauty of scoreless 120-minute contests, I realize some soccer purists will regard me as a gibbering fool for thinking, no, the PK format doesn’t suck.
The person responsible for implementing one-on-one kicks to break ties in championship soccer games is worthy of some sort of Nobel Prize. (There’s an extra one in the bin, by the way, courtesy of Bob Dylan.)
If the MLS championship format were modeled after, say, hockey’s Stanley Cup — absent a shootout, playoff games have dawdled into the wee small hours of the morning — it’s conceivable the Sounders would’ve remained on the field through next summer.
The overtime decided by Seattle’s fifth successful kick, off the foot of Roman Torres, might have been a cheap thrill, but it was a thrill just the same. Torres’ score inspired a spontaneous-combustion scene that revived memories of the 2013 Seahawks hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after crushing the Broncos in Super Bowl 48.
Watching professional athletes hug each other, with tears of joy on their faces, never gets old. If ever such a triumphant moment strikes me as stale, I’ll take it as my cue to get out of the sportswriting business.
In the meantime, I’ll be curious to see if the Sounders’ championship increases their fan base beyond the 40,000 loyalists who typically attend matches at CenturyLink Field.
Background noise in a neighborhood tavern isn’t the most accurate way to measure public opinion, but then, neither is any scientific poll with a plus-minus margin of error.
In any case, I watched the Sounders clinch their championship in a place where two of the three televisions around the bar were tuned into the game.
But the audio was on mute, depriving me of the opportunity to hear an analyst break down whatever there was to break down about a 0-0 score.
When Torres’ game-winning overtime kick nailed the back of the net, there was some cheering at the volume of the Seahawks earning a first down during the second quarter of a regular-season game.
Patrons didn’t embrace each other, but I’ve got to admit I was willing. A team’s season, appearing to be a lost cause in early July, concluded with a furious December run sparked by the coaching change that turned things over to Brian Schmetzer.
Schmetzer’s low-key poise upon winning reminded me of the reaction USA Olympic hockey team coach Herb Brooks showed after his team upset the Soviets in 1980: Mission accomplished, their expressions suggested. The guys stepped up, all we did was remind them that in any athletic competition, no dreams are impossible.
Schmetzer now qualifies as a Seattle sports legend. Here’s to him, and his extraordinary goalkeeper, and the rest of the once-left-for-dead Sounders.
Most of all, here’s to the penalty-kick overtime format that found some of us, for a magical minute or two, wanting to exchange fist bumps with strangers.