Place: Caffe Fiore, West Seattle. Time: Mid-afternoon.
Geoff was alone in his brooding.
A burst of summer had welcomed Seattle into April with a warm embrace. Three days of endless sun. 72 hours of the mountains peeking out from behind their gray veil on the horizon.
The city responded with barely restrained jubilation. Its residents poured outdoors, took an unbelieving glance at the sky and flocked to Alki Beach, Lake Washington, city parks and every bar with even the slightest hint of outdoor seating.
Usually, this is Geoff’s cue to return to his most ironclad of beholden truths: “Yes, I grant you, the famed rain and drizzle of the Northwest are a bit of a bummer. I counter, though, that the gray makes the colors stand out more brilliantly. No people on earth bask in the long-awaited shine than Seattleites. I have visited nearly every corner of the world, and I’ve yet to witness even a remotely convincing counterpoint.”
Geoff ran a small non-profit tucked discretely tucked into a side street on Capitol Hill, loved the job and showed it by constantly dropping references to his globetrotting past. But, in truth, for all the good his work did for those born into unlucky circumstances far from his privileged homeland, it wasn’t Geoff’s passion.
Washing out in the first year of law school hadn’t dimmed a lifelong appreciation for the art of debate. Debate captain on his high school team at Prep (fifth in state, senior year), undisputed champion on the barroom circuit and Hurst family reunions.
The bedrock for his many successes was a dogma of rationality. A plus B equals C. Remove all emotion, trust only what you can prove. It helped him get through his personal failures – an unflinching introspection revealed that a weakness for dark liquor had been the source of his scholastic letdown. He brushed himself off, found a new outlet and never looked back.
There had never been a problem he couldn’t solve. But today, he was stymied.
As the city exploded into millions of moments that proved his aforementioned hypothesis, sailing jogging dog walking sun bathing day drinking tennis playing, Geoff lounged in one of the reclined chairs outside his favorite coffee spot, sulking.
Usually, watching the foot traffic revved his inquisitive mind to life. This was how he refreshed. When a particularly complex question lay on his brain, a drip coffee, no cream, and a few moments with distractions removed were always enough.
Yet, even aided by a rare grande sized cup of the black stuff, the usual answer remained dormant.
The question? It was one that had tormented him before, but not for so long: What was wrong with the Seattle Sounders?
If only there hadn’t been any reason to hope at all.
It’s not that Geoff is one to inflate expectations. In fact, the opposite is true. Let the buzzing rave green masses around him talk themselves into wins.
He attempted to talk down his fellow Emerald City Supporters as they took marched to the opening-night match against Montreal in prophetically bleak conditions, grey skies above the neon hues.
“The defensive unit still ships goals at the worst possible times, for all the chances the offense creates they rarely turn them into goals, confidence is still fatally fragile from past postseason losses.” His friends half-listened gamely, having long since learned the folly of trying to get into a one-sided debate.
The 90 minutes that followed vindicated each of his claims, as pessimistic as they were.
Eddie Johnson so nearly sidefoots home a smooth, all-in-one-motion volley. A few minutes later, Johnson again bursts through an opening but shoots right at the ‘keeper. Then, running contrary to the attacking flow, the Impact pluck a wondergoal from the sky. The home d zones out for half a second, Davy Arnaud dices in behind and weighs a perfect chip into the back of the net. 1-0 Impact.
One-way traffic for the remaining 65 minutes, a parade of just wides and one touch too manys. Three points dropped, though to Geoff, to who a Sounders victory is only slightly more fulfilling than being right, it is a confirmation.
He’s had this team’s number for years, from the first kick of the expansion year until now. Fan bases would line up for the amount of talent flowing out of that CenturyLink tunnel, but Geoff’s no-nonsense, cut-the-bullshit mind cut right to the fatal flaws, ones that haven’t changed much. Inexplicable defensive lapses, inefficiency up front, past trauma from knockout rounds past.
Sure, he’s temporarily fallen prey to optimism, the realist’s greatest foe. The Sounders really looked like they were going to rally all the way back against LA last year. But Robbie Keane’s dastardly craftiness taught him a swift lesson.
So standing amongst the dejected, slumping neon-colored parkas in the North End, clad in a stylish pair of black-rimmed glasses, a retro Sounders jacket and a team-store scarf, Geoff, at least, was content.
You can’t get hurt if you never allow yourself to hope.
The first crack in his wall came in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals.
The opening leg went against as Geoff prophesized: A drab hour and a half, Seattle’s attacking horses – this year’s strength – kept in the barn, no away goals, Tigres finally turning the advantage into a lead.
An early 1-0 deficit at home. A three-goal divine intervention needed to advance. New verse, same as the first.
Here comes the Tigres red card. Geoff remains unaffected by the spasms of hope shuddering among the home fans. It swells when DeAndre Yedlin’s screamer from Bellevue somehow splashes the back of the net. Still, not even the faintest glimmer of hope can be seen in Geoff’s brown eyes.
Then, oh, and then. Djimi Traoré. A half volley from the left channel brought to you by the makers of The Last Airbender. The kind of goal that wipes bare eternal scars. Pandemonium in the South End.
Geoff lets loose along with the rest of them. Those penned in emotions come roaring out along with the crowd. He feels it, there will be no Robbie Keane moment.
Eddie Johnson caps the Ave Maria of a comeback with a dribble and finish so simply executed that it hides just how difficult it is to pull off.
Seattle is through. One of his ironclad principles of disbelief, capitulating when the chips are down, loosens from its roots in reality.
The Obafemi Martins signing. Premier League proven. Lion of La Liga. Geoff has always been an admirer of the Nigerian national’s game, his emotions discreetly clouding his judgment.
Another pillar of his antifaith crumbles into dust.
Now, all that’s left is an understandable skepticism about the reliability of the back line. But the damage has been done. Encouraging whispers breach the boundaries of Geoff’s protective wall. If the other team never sees the ball, they can’t score. Once Eddie and Obafemi start clicking, we’ll score three goals a game, the defense won’t matter. That Yedlin kid is going to be a star, he’ll cover for the rest.
Suddenly, it’s up to his ECS friends to talk down expectations. Chemistry takes time. Martins is on the back end of his career, he’s not a savior. Let’s get one win before we start talking dynasty.
Geoff doesn’t want to hear it. His new religion is blind faith. As far as he’s concerned, he’s broken down the problem and it is clearly solved. There is nothing to rationally hold the Sounders back.
Yes, the Timbers somehow filched a point behind enemy lines with a late goal. “But did you see Martins’ quality? Oh, that ball to Johnson. On a dime! It’s happening right in front of our eyes, boys. Oba to Eddie to the title.”
But, somehow, the losses keep piling up. Wondolowski Findley Gil Gomez. Three up, three down. Worse, each failing has its origins in Geoff’s old skepticism. The attack is wasteful, Martins has a nagging injury that is increasingly worrying. The defense customarily ships a garbage goal.
And about that shattered curse of postseasons past. Sigi Schmid has apparently picked up a touch of Geoff’s overconfidence. For the home leg against Santos Laguna, the Sounders name a gutted lineup. Without Martins, Johnson, Zakuani or Morales, at least the offense isn’t wasteful – it’s just toothless.
Standing amidst empty seats in the cavernous, quarter-full stadium, Geoff is unshaken. His mind has turned the lumbering striker Ochoa from a question mark to a finished product, turned back the years on veteran midfielder Joseph. Predictably to the 21,000 in attendance, minus Geoff, the visitors find a vital away goal and the Sounders fall limp.
Geoff is past the point of no return, has charted his own path. His old bedrocks are lost to him. Cup or bust.
Geoff finished his coffee and started walking aimlessly west. In this city of water, it was only a matter of time before he hit some of it. He gazes out, sailboats and cruise ships, swimmers and jetties, the Cascades looming over the water.
At dusk, even on days as clear as this, the craggy, hazy beasts seem to shift form.
You know they’re there, no way to rationally deny that. But at this magic hour, fading sun melting them into the horizon, they appear more dream than reality.
Geoff isn’t so sure about anything anymore.