For about a half hour Sunday, Jordan Jennings was enjoying the sort of afternoon extended to the recipient of a charity auction item.
Jennings, the full-time goalkeeper for the Tacoma Tide of the Premier Development League, had a sideline seat for the Sounders’ friendly against Celtic.
Not only could Jennings watch the exhibition, he had access to the locker room and was invited to participate in pregame warm-ups.
In exchange for those perks, Jennings was on call in the improbable event the Sounders needed a backup for goalkeeper Terry Boss.
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It was Boss’ time to substitute for the mildly injured Kasey Keller, who needed a breather after a grueling shutout performance against D.C. United on Thursday.
Jennings fantasy-camp experience took a drastic turn in the 29th minute, when Boss took a red card for what referee Paul Ward interpreted to be a tackle of Celtic’s Georgios Samaras during a breakaway.
Although the common-sense call would’ve been to allow the goal – despite the interference, Samaras’ shot went into the net – Ward, adhering to the literal letter of the law instead of the spirit of a friendly, issued the red card that put the Sounders at a one-man disadvantage for the rest of the game.
The more immediate predicament belonged to Jennings, a 25-year-old graduate of Stadium High School and former goalkeeper at Seattle University. Without taking a practice shot, Jennings found himself facing a penalty kick from Samaras, a striker for Greece’s national team.
“I remembered him from the World Cup,” said Jennings. “I was like, ‘Wow, the long-haired Greek guy is actually taking a penalty on me now?’
“Unfortunately, I guessed the wrong way.”
After allowing the goal that gave the Bhoys a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in their 2-1 victory, Jennings could’ve been forgiven for succumbing to a case of stage fright. But the daunting challenge never got the best of him.
“I saw the red card come out and I was nervous,” said Jennings. “I thought, ‘oh, my gosh, is this really happening?’ Then you make a couple of plays and it all kind of just goes away. I started feeling more comfortable than I ever thought I would be. The butterflies went away as soon as I made my first save. It was all right from there.”
Still, some 17 hours after he took the field at Curtis High School for the Tide’s game against the Washington Crossfire, Jennings found himself facing one of the most recognized soccer teams in the world, before Qwest Field crowd of 45,631.
“A little bit of a different of atmosphere,” Jennings said.
Yeah, a little.
“Saturday night he played in front of 25 people. Today he stepped onto the field and played in front of 45,000,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “For a kid who is not normally on our team and has been playing PDL, which is a couple of divisions below, I thought he did quite well. He came up with a couple of good saves and snagged a perfect one going to his left.”
Schmid’s tone was more dire earlier in the day, when he presumed the red card left the Sounders with no chance to compete.
“The guy scored the goal – the referee could have let the goal count. Nobody needed to come back for the penalty,” said Schmid, who left the sideline to plead his case to Ward.
And how’d that go?
“He told me he had blown the whistle so he needed to call the penalty,” continued Schmid. “I said, ‘So you need to red-card the guy?’ He said those were the rules. I said, ‘So you ruined the game for 40,000 people?’”
Despite the referee’s tone-deaf response to the circumstances, the red card didn’t so much ruin the game as provide it with a hot-button moment.
Instead of packing it in after the controversy, the Sounders answered their one-man disadvantage with energy and a sense of purpose. And when David Estrada’s explosive kick in the 66th minute cut the Celtic lead to 2-1, the exhibition match turned into the kind of theatre that left nobody disappointed in the effort.
As for the Accidental Goalkeeper, he returns to the Tide team owned by his father Mike. Tacoma’s 1-1 draw against the Crossfire on Saturday left it clinging to fading playoff hopes.
“Basically,” explained Jennings, “we need Kitsap to lose out, and we need to win out and beat them in the last game.”
Whatever happens, Jennings has a keepsake from Sunday: his “teammates” awarded him the game ball.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I’ll remember this the rest of my life, for sure.”