Seattle forward David Estrada jogged off the pitch to raucous applause when he left the match in the 87th minute Saturday night.
He made the sign of the cross, hugged his coach, then heard his name chanted by the 38,709 representing the largest turnout for a Major League Soccer opener in Seattle.
Later, he would have his own emotional response to his superb night.
Estrada's three goals led the Seattle Sounders past Toronto FC 3-1 on Saturday night at CenturyLink Field in the opener for each club.
Estrada's impressive performance was the third hat trick for the Sounders (1-0-0), joining Lamar Neagle on August 27, 2011, and Blaise Nkufo on Sept. 18, 2010, both against the Columbus Crew.
The Sounders had tried Estrada at multiple positions since drafting him in 2010. Head coach Sigi Schmid decided to move the third-year player back to forward this spring, where he played at UCLA. Saturday, Estrada rewarded the move.
"It's been a long time coming," Estrada said after pausing to withhold tears.
Estrada is in the lineup after multiple moves were made by the team. The Sounders made a preseason trade of young forwards Neagle and Mike Fucito. Forward O'Brian White was injured last year and will be released. It all added up to a shot for Estrada, who has scored four goals in his last two home matches.
"Once we realized that O'Brian White wouldn't be out there for us right now, that we were short up front, we said, `Look, we're going to stick you back up front. We think that's your best spot."' Schmid said. "His work rate is unbelievable. Like I've said, nobody deserves it more in terms of the effort that they put in day in and day out."
To open the scoring in the first half, Alvaro Fernandez zipped down the left side and masterfully switched the ball around the back of his left leg with his right instep. The move left Toronto defender Ty Harden staggered and opened a lane for Fernandez's cross. Estrada mined the ball away from Toronto's goaltender Milos Kocic for the 17th-minute score.
Early in the second half, Estrada was sent ahead by a pass from Sounders' fullback Marc Burch. Estrada ran ahead of two Toronto defenders, paused, then finished past a closing Kocic with his right foot in the 51st minute.
Toronto FC (0-1-0) forward Ryan Johnson was able to resurrect its hope with a finish in the 62nd minute to cut Seattle's lead to 2-1.
But Estrada was free again following exquisite passing among the Sounders' midfielders and a final short through ball from Fernandez, which led to his third goal in the 63rd minute.
Toronto captain Torsten Frings injured his hamstring in the 24th minute when he chased down Estrada then poked the ball away. Frings will be re-evaluated in Toronto. He was replaced by Aaron Maund.
"I think if you watch in the first half we played quite well," Toronto FC coach Aron Winter said. "At the end you got to force something to at least score one of two goals. It was very hard that we lost and I think that we didn't give them everything."