By Dylan Vanderhoof

We've already written articles about some of our various forms of tifo; About the flags we wave to show our support during the match, about the chants we sing to lift up our players and fire up the crowd.  However, when most people talk of tifo what they're actually talking about is "choreos", large choreographed displays covering one or more full sections of the stadium.  These can be large painted overhead displays and hoisted curtains taking thousands of man hours to build, card displays in abstract patterns or letter mosaics, table rolls, streamers, and a variety of other elements, often blended in the same display.

While we've used all of these, ECS is most known for our large painted displays, or combinations of painted and card displays.  Despite being much more time consuming and difficult to put together, the extra detail available in a painted displays allows us to more clearly present a message.  What people often ask is how do you choose the message, and why do it at all?

The answer to both of those questions is closely related, and I'm sure opinions will vary, but to the answer is obvious: Choreos are an expression of our passion and support for our club.  Nothing more, but certainly nothing less.  Now, I'm sure you're asking, "Well, isn't that what you say about songs and flags too?  Why bother with the huge displays?"  The answer to me is twofold.  First, a choreo can send a much more clear and direct message, typically one of support for our players on the pitch.  Second, the scale catches the attention of everybody in the stadium far more than day to day chanting does.  You can hear that increase in energy in every video of a large display, as soon as it starts going up the volume in the stadium elevates, fans who might be quieter join the chorus and let their voices get heard.

It's no accident that we almost always do a display for the first match of the season.  There is no better way to start off a long season of football than letting the club and fans know that we are here and we are behind them.  Our opener choreos have recently had a message celebrating our club and its strength, with a more general message to encompassing the season ahead.  This can range from a message of unity and diversity (E Pluribus Sounders), to a message urging the players to show that they can be the best in the league (Rise Above).

While these general messages of encouragement are perfect for an opener, they are hardly the only sort of message that can be used, nor is a generally uplifting message the only one appropriate.  Tifo that takes a dig at the other side is sometimes maligned as "anti-tifo" and derided as being classless, negative, or ignoring your own team.  Given that there's a rich history of making a dig at the other side in Europe where choreos were born, that's a strange argument, but nevertheless it is a commonly held stance.  That being said, there is no reason you can't do both at the same time!  Tifo that generically lifts up your team while making no mention of the opposition eventually becomes generic, something that could be put up for any given match.  We feel that misses the point to a certain extent, that a choreo is best made for a specific match and for a specific reason.  Perhaps the most overtly negative tifo ECS has done was the 2011 US Open Cup Final, a Grim Reaper in Sounders colors, over three gravestones, two overgrown from previous Cup Final opponents who lost to the Sounders, and an open grave in the middle with the Chicago Fire logo on the headstone and a Chicago flag in the grave.  No words are required for a tifo like that to get its message across, but we received many comments on how powerful it was when the match was over.

These shows of support don't have to be limited to your own stadium though.  While still fairly uncommon in MLS, Away Tifo is also an excellent tradition particularly for large matches.  While most traveling Supporter Groups will bring their usual flags and drums, well executed away tifo is unique and sends a clear message to your club that you're there for them, no matter how far away.  Additionally, given the environment, you're not necessarily trying to pump up your own crowd so much as intimidate the home one.  More "negative" displays become appropriate when away, perhaps our most obvious example of this being our 2011 Away derby in Vancouver that decided the Cascadia Cup.  Vancouver had rioted after losing the Stanley Cup at home earlier that year, so a burning skyline and the message 'We Predict A Riot" was perfect for the occasion.  The opposing fans were furious, the Sounders played out of their minds, and the Cascadia Cup came home with the ECS that night.

Along that line, no discussion of the what and why of a choreo would be complete without talking about derbies.  More than any other time, this is when people EXPECT to see a display.  They know what's at stake, no matter where in the table the opposing clubs might be.  These are matches for pride.  Pride between clubs, and pride between the supporter groups of those clubs.  Competition in derbies isn't just on the pitch, it happens in the stands as well, the opposing sides trying to out-sing the other, and show their team that they support them more than the other side supports theirs.  Nowhere else is better for a message of strength combined with a dig at the opposing team.  In 2012 when Portland visited Seattle, we decided to turn the TA's "King of Clubs" motif on its head and gave Sigi a winning royal flush of hearts to beat Wilkinson's King of Club.  For 2013, we took the popular derby chant "Build a Bonfire" that we share with much of the world and showed our players riding triumphant like the four horsemen of the apocalypse out of the blaze, with the intent of both intimidating and supporting at the same time.

So, does any of this matter beyond the obvious (and effective) crowd energy it creates?  We certainly believe so.  After the "All In" display Sigi was visibility choked up on camera, and commented afterwards that he was glad we gave him a royal flush to beat Portland with.  After the Build a Bonfire tifo, Brad Evans said he was absolutely honored to be one of the horsemen on the display and that it nearly moved him to tears before the match.  Even smaller displays such as the one honoring veteran defender Zach Scott for 10 years as a Sounder have an effect, even if it's to let a sometimes unsung player know that we see what they're doing for the club and we honor them for it.

The players and staff see these messages and are honored, and thankful for them; In the end, that alone makes all the time spent worthwhile.