Sounders fans lead efforts for Haitian fundraiser

Nearly $12,000 raised for Doctors Without Borders

For all of the generosity and activism of the Sounders FC faithful, nobody could have expected the sight at the George & Dragon Saturday night when supporter group Gorilla FC held a fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders, supporting medical relief after the disasters in Haiti.

With hundreds of fans flowing through the Fremont pub beginning well before the scheduled start time of 5:30, the donations totaled a remarkable $11,951 aided by the presence of Sounders FC defenders James Riley and Patrick Ianni and midfielder Steve Zakuani.  And while the host pub donated $1,500 and other patrons filled a plastic tube with nearly $3,000 in cash and checks, what left the masses buzzing into the night was the story of a 14-year-old boy who waited at the door to donate his birthday money for the cause.

When the teen arrived with his mother, he knew he wouldn’t be able to come inside the 21-and-over pub, but wanted to contribute nonetheless.  So when he got to the door, he handed over his contribution of $209 and was hoping for an autograph.  Hearing of the boy’s charity, Ianni sprung from the autograph table and hand-delivered signed photos to him at the entrance.

“Our fans surprise me at every turn,” said Ianni.  “Every game, every time I’m around them, they just continue to surprise me.”

Sounders FC Vice President of Business Operations Gary Wright also matched the generous donation from the teen.

Gorilla FC has been active in community outreach and charitable efforts all through the last year.  It all started with a modest event for Seattle anit-violence organization Home Alive, an organization that Gorilla FC continues to support, that saw roughly 25 people raise $300.  The supporter group has grown considerably since that event and was aided greatly by the Sounders players who committed to singing autographs and posing for pictures to help raise money for the event.

“I knew I could do all the behind the scenes work and if I could get them involved, I knew it would be successful,” said Gorilla FC founder Kevin Zelko.

Shortly after the January 12 earthquake struck the already poverty-stricken Caribbean island nation, Zelko reached out to Zakuani, who recruited Riley and Ianni.  With the US National Team facing Honduras on Saturday – just two days before the start of Sounders FC training camp – it became a natural fit to organize a fundraiser around the international friendly.

But the response was well beyond expectations.

“Seattle always comes through over the top.  To come out and support the travesty in Haiti with this many people is phenomenal.  We’re more than happy to be a part of it,” Riley said.

“It blew us away.  As soon as I walked in, it was unbelievable,” Zakuani said.  “It’s good to meet the fans and sign the autographs, but it’s about Haiti, so it’s fantastic.”

In addition to autographs and pictures, the players also offered up game-worn shoes and other memorabilia to be auctioned and raffled for the cause.

“Everybody that came was happy leaving.  It was wonderful to see the spirit.  Having the Sounders involved really put this thing together,” Zelko said.  “Having great people involved and putting the spirit forward and continually putting forth the effort to do what you think is right … it pays off.”

Meanwhile, at Atlantic Crossing, the Emerald City Supporters greeted Sounders FC draft picks David Estrada, Mike Seamon and Jamel Wallace, along with coaches Sigi Schmid, Brian Schmetzer and Tom Dutra.

“The three draftees probably aren’t used to being in a community that cares so much about soccer, so we gave them a taste of what to expect from the Sounders fans this year,” said ECS’s Greg Mockos.  “It was great to have the coaching staff stop by too.  That was a cool surprise.”

Organized by Keith Hodo of the ECS and US National Team supporters American Outlaws, their efforts raised a further $1,700 for the Red Cross fund for Haiti.

“Hopefully this generosity continues.  It’s pretty cool that the soccer community is so engaged,” Mockos said.

For further information on donating to the Red Cross, visit www.weareecs.com.  And for more information on Doctors Without Borders, visit www.gorillafc.com.