Of all of Tyrone Marshall’s memories from his two seasons with the Seattle Sounders, one stands out; beating the New York Red Bulls 3-0 in the team’s inaugural match.
The Seattle Sounders sold out Qwest Field for their inaugural MLS match in 2009.
Of all Tyrone Marshall’s memories from that historic season, shutting out the defending MLS champion New York Red Bulls 3-0 in front of 32,000-plus fans to open the season stands out the most.
“Once you get on the field you start feeling the buzz,” he said. “And then once the game started the butterflies were flowing and we got that early goal.”
The Real Salt Lake assistant coach helped kick off the Sounders’ tradition of success eight years ago, after the Sounders traded for him ahead of their first season in the league. On Saturday RSL faced Marshall’s former club at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Marshall played in Seattle for two seasons, 2009 and 2010, amid a 14-year MLS career. That inaugural season set Seattle up to become one of the league’s flagship teams. MLS Commissioner Don Garber called it, “arguably one of the best expansion launches in all of pro sports,” at the time.
In addition to Seattle’s success on the field — the Sounders finished the regular season third in the conference and won the U.S. Open Cup — it also shattered previous MLS attendance records.
On Oct. 23, the 33,108 fans that packed Qwest Field (now CenturyLink Field) set a new high mark for the league.
Atlanta holds the current attendance record of 70,425, which it set last week, but at the time 33,000 fans was a feat in MLS. The Sounders sold out for 16 consecutive MLS home matches in 2009.
“It was surreal,” Marshall said. “I’d never experienced it in MLS, and I’d been the league, at the time it was 13 years. And coming in, in an environment like that, every time you come in you want to play.”
Marshall excelled in that environment. His teammates voted him the Sounders Defensive Player of the Year, and in the Sounders’ playoff-clinching match at Kansas City on Oct. 17 he logged both a goal and an assist for the first time in his career.
Through personnel changes and the growth of the league, the Sounders have evolved into a different team than the Sigi Schmid-led Seattle squad Marshall played for. But veteran leadership has remained a theme over the course of the club’s history, Marshall said.
The Sounders won their first MLS Cup last year, with former RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey in charge in Seattle for a second year.
The Sounders slid to a 6-12-2 record in the first half of the season before firing Schmid on July 26. That same day, new designated player Nicolás Lodeiro got off a plane in Seattle.
After Lodeiro’s signing, the Sounders climbed from ninth place in the Western Conference to fourth, claiming a playoff spot. They went on to win the whole thing, beating Toronto in the MLS Cup in a 5-4 shootout after 120 scoreless minutes of soccer.
“It was unfortunate what happened to Sigi, but you could tell that the formula was already there,” Marshall said. “It was just missing that final ingredient, and I thought Lodeiro provided that for them last year.”
The timing doesn’t line up perfectly, but the parallels between Seattle’s comeback season and RSL’s current playoff push are there.
RSL coach Mike Petke took the helm midseason, on March 29. Real Salt Lake then signed talented young winger Jefferson Savarino in May and physical center back Marcelo Silva the next month.
“The guys are just loving each other right now,” Marshall said. “… I think that’s what the similarity to last year with Seattle is. They had that where everyone is playing for each other. They had that confidence, and I think I see that similarity now with these guys where they’re being unselfish in the box: ‘Hey you shoot. At the end of the day if you score we all score.’ ”