By Michael Norton
Human lives are often remembered as a series of “firsts.” Parents remember their children through firsts. First steps. First outgrown onesie. First bike ride without training wheels. First report card. Kids eventually care about firsts themselves. First beer. First kiss. First day of college. First job interview, not necessarily in that order.
The Seattle Sounders: A Franchise Defined by “Firsts”
Major League Soccer fans might probably remember their club through firsts as well. The first goal in club history. The first Designated Player. The first good Designated Player for the unfortunate clubs. The first MLS Cup for the not-so-unfortunate ones.
For fans of the 19 (and soon to be 21) MLS clubs outside of the state of Washington, another milestone comes to mind: their club’s first encounter with the Seattle Sounders.
Like the aforementioned young adult firsts, your club’s first match against the Seattle Sounders was probably built up in your head to be a grand event. It was probably seen like those other firsts like a rite of passage, a chance to look the standard in the eye before throwing it to the ground. Just like all those other firsts, it probably ended up a letdown.
My first memory of the Sounders sure was.
It was April 4, 2009, when my hometown Toronto FC welcomed Seattle to BMO Field for the first time. The Sounders were only two games into their debut season in MLS. Those matches, both played in Washington, were attended by a combined 61,000 people and won by a combined score of 5-0.
My fourteen-year-old self was in the stands for their third regular season game in existence and I already thought of their franchise as a titan among mortals. I was awestruck. I was scared.
I remember a large banner was displayed by the supporters at the start of the match, poking fun at Sounders celebrity part-owner Drew Carey’s weight. “Hey Drew, we found your dress” it read, with a painting of a dress and a size tag with at least two (but five wouldn’t surprise me) X’s in front of the L. It was a poor attempt to fish for a weakness somewhere in the seemingly unbreakable franchise, and it didn’t work. My first taste of Seattle Sounder soccer was seeing Toronto FC lose 2-0.
Chances are your club’s first meetings with the Sounders didn’t go much better than mine.
When you include the defunct Chivas USA, the Seattle Sounders have played 20 different clubs during the MLS regular season. Their record against those clubs when they met them on the road for the first time was 9-6-5 with a +3 goal differential. When hosting those clubs for the first time, the Sounders went 8-4-8 with a +13 goal differential. Nearly three quarters of those matches were played in 2009, when an expansion team isn’t supposed to win.
But in their first seven seasons, winning was all the Seattle Sounders knew.
In each of those years the Sounders qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs. In each of those years they had won more regular-season games than they had lost, and their lowest goal differential was a zero in 2013. In those seven years they won four U.S. Open Cups and played in the final of another, they won a Supporters’ Shield, and they played in two conference championships.
Carey, for what it’s worth, went on to lose 100 pounds and compete on Dancing With The Stars, where he outlasted Australian teen pop star Cody Simpson.
In those first seven seasons, you could have put Carey and his friends from his Whose Line is it Anyway? days on the field and still end up with a Sounders win. Season eight was supposed to be the first year of losing.
Through the first 20 games of the regular season, the Seattle Sounders were 6-12-2. If it wasn’t for the even more abysmal 4-9-7 record posted by the Houston Dynamo in that same stretch, the Sounders wold have found themselves at the foot of the Western Conference.
On July 26, Sigi Schmid, the only head coach the club had known in their time in MLS, was fired and replaced by Brian Schmetzer. The next day, 27-year-old Uruguayan midfielder and multi-World Cup veteran Nicolas Lodeiro signed with the club as a DP.
The Sounders went 8-2-4 in the final 14 games of the regular season. They maintained their playoff streak, their wins greater than (or equal to) losses streak, and had a +1 goal differential.
It took two moves over the course of two days to wipe away what looked like a surefire first-time loser. Thrown three straight gifts in the postseason – an offside winner vs. Sporting Kansas City, a Mauro Diaz-less FC Dallas, the “how the heck are they in the Western Conference Championship” Colorado Rapids – the loser never re-emerged.
They Should Have Been Here Already
The Seattle Sounders have deserved to play for Major League Soccer’s top prize on numerous occasions. The 2011 side led by Newcomer of the Year Mauro Rosales that finished second to the LA Galaxy in the Supporters’ Shield race didn’t get that far. The “Freddy ‘n’ Eddie” frontline of 2012 that scored a combined 34 regular season goals before falling to the Galaxy in the Western Conference Championship didn’t either.
That 2014 Supporters’ Shield winning Sounders lineup that had Frei, Alonso, Evans, Yedlin, Neagle, Martins, and Dempsey fell to the Galaxy in the West final. Even the not-as-excellent 2015 team, the one that finally beat the dream-killing Galaxy in the postseason, wasn’t able to make it to the championship game.
Seven straight years of significant winning, but with championship objectives set from day one, every Sounders season from 2009 to 2015 ultimately felt like a loss.
Tonight, the worst Seattle Sounders team in MLS history (their 1.41 regular season PPG is literally the lowest in the club’s time in MLS) plays in the club’s first-ever MLS Cup. In Toronto FC, they’re facing a club that has done as much wrong in their history as the Sounders have done right.
But it’s 2016.
The only result these Seattle Sounders deserve is a first-ever MLS Cup final defeat.