Sounders supporters meet with team after leader ejected for Iron Front flag

SEATTLE -- Members of Emerald City Supporters met privately with the Seattle Sounders FC Monday to discuss ways to resolve conflict. The meeting was planned after a leader of the team’s largest support group was ejected from Sunday’s game for waving an Iron Front flag, a widely recognized anti-fascist symbol. Moments after, several other fans walked out in solidarity protesting the ejection.

During a post-game news conference, Sunday, Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said he noticed the exit.

“It’s a little bit of a sad day for me because I understand there were some people leaving, I understand the conflict. And I don’t want that to affect the performance of the team,” said Schmetzer. “I’m an ECS member, I’m a guy who fights for the team. There’s a lot of guys here that this is an issue that I hope that both sides can find a solution because I don’t like to see that side of the stadium empty.”

The Iron Front symbol illustrates three arrows pointed downward and to the left. The imagery originated in Germany in the 1930s and is recognized as anti-fascism.

Major League Soccer said its fans were encouraged to show their passion and support through signs and banners, but there are boundaries.

In a statement released Monday, MLS said:

“Since our inception in 1996, MLS and its clubs have had a strong commitment to our core values of diversity and inclusion. These values have been an important part of the way we think and operate on and off the field."

“Unlike all of the other major North American sports leagues, our fans are encouraged to show their passion and support for their clubs through the use of TIFO displays and other signs and banners."

“Our fan code of conduct policy, which was coordinated with our clubs, prohibits signs that promote any political organization, including the Iron Front flag, which is associated with Antifa."

“Major League Soccer fully and wholeheartedly condemns racism, discrimination, fascism and any form of hatred. We and our clubs will continue to permit signs that support basic human rights, as the rainbow pride flag does, as well as those that condemn racism and fascism."

“The prohibition on political signage is in place to support the overwhelming majority of MLS fans who come to our stadiums to enjoy a great soccer game. All of our fans and supporters are important to us and we will continue to engage with them to ensure that we deliver an incredible experience for all.”

Coach Schmetzer said he hopes fans and the league would find a resolution.

“I support both sides, I see both sides. Somehow, we have to address this and I still say we have the best fans. You know, I appreciate all the stuff the fans have done for me over the years, so I'm just hoping they can solve it,” said Schmetzer.

Taylor Graham, Sounders vice president of business operations and marketing, said the issue was not isolated in Seattle. He said other major MLS cities were dealing with similar conflicts.

“As much as we (Sounders’ front office) can have good and productive and honest and direct and sometimes tough conversations with our supporters groups, it’s equally important that the league understands why this is such an important issue and why now of all these times,” said Graham. “This is a circumstance that is important to solve because we want to be able to celebrate our values in a way that is consistent with what this league and what our club and what our fans believe in. But we have to find that solution.”

An ECS spokesperson said the group would be cheering on the Sounders, Wednesday, against Dallas FC. The ECS and other major support groups were scheduled to meet with MLS Thursday in Las Vegas.