Are the Seattle Sounders the Future of MLS Franchises?


It might not have always been easy or pretty, and it may have given a few supporters a couple grey hairs, but the Seattle Sounders are officially the MLS’s best regular season team. 

The regular season that started with a 1-0 stoppage time victory over defending MLS champs has officially concluded, with the Sounders at the helm.  So how did they do it?  By being one step ahead of the game, that’s how.

Depth, style of play, and star power are the three factors that make a great soccer side on the pitch.  Off of it, a combination of experience and a great academy are what make a great franchise.  Seattle proved this year that they have all of the above.

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While not as long as European Leagues, MLS has a long and grueling season nonetheless.  Travel and some nasty swings in weather only add to it.  Rarely does a player make it the entire year without missing at least one game to an injury.  And in a league where often the star player takes precedence over team depth (cough, cough, Toronto), Seattle has perhaps assembled the most complete MLS side in the history of the league.

Whenever a starter went down, there was always an equally capable backup ready to fill in.  Never did this come into play more than during the one month stretch that saw Clint Dempsey and Brad Evans leave for international duty.  While teams in the top of the east like Kansas City, New York and Toronto (Toronto is going to be in this article a lot, so get used to it) were suffering due to the loss of key players, the Seattle Sounders barely broke stride.

Yes it helps that Obafemi Martins was the World Cup’s biggest snub, but role players like Kenny Cooper, Chad Barrett, and Lamar Neagle filled in beautifully when needed while they waited for their stars to return.  Seattle’s team is so deep, there are simple not enough positions in soccer to field every Sounder who deserves to start.  That’s a pretty good thing.

A big hit that MLS has taken from other leagues over the years has been its lack of a defining playing style.  Too much conservative, defensive, long-ball playing nothingness.  While that has changed in the league as of late, Seattle seems to have taken the longest strides in developing a unique style of play.  Seattle keeps their passes short and concise as they move up the field and attempt to get the ball to target striker Obafemi Martins, the linchpin of their offense. He in turn will either give a deadly through ball to Clint Dempsey or winger such as Marco Pappa making a searching run, or he will use his power and torque to turn and send a screamer towards goal.  Death by fire, or drowning: you choose.

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Léo Chú's Red Card Costs Seattle Sounders in Controversial Draw with Portland Timbers
Léo Chú's Red Card Costs Seattle Sounders in Controversial Draw with Portland Timbers /

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  • This year, the Chicago Fire set an MLS record with most draws.  Was it because they are a bad team? No, on the contrary. Their team through and through was pretty solid, most of their starters would be able to start on a good portion of teams in MLS. 

    However, all year the one thing that evaded them was a playmaker, one man to put them head and shoulders above everyone else.  Seattle does not have that problem. 

    Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey both showed that a foundation is nothing if you don’t have superstars that can bring out the best of those around them.  Aside from the strike duo, DeAndre Yedlin, Lamar Neagle, Ozzie Alonzo and Marco Pappa all blossomed into stardom this year and could be the best player on any team in the league.

    Off the field, the Seattle front office have been instrumental in the team’s success, as they are able to keep a core of players who have been with the club a long time while also being proactive during transfer season to fill in gaps.  Important players in Seattle such as Zach Scott, Brad Evans, and Ozzie Alonzo have all been with the club since its inaugural season in 2009.  Lamar Neagle has had 3 stints on Seattle, in 2009, 2011, and since 2013.  This is great for continuity and is essential in maintaining a style of play.

    A youth program to teach future players this style from an early age is almost as essential.  Seattle currently has three players signed to homegrown contracts, with a fourth, Jordan Morris, poised to join the first team in the near future.

    Yedlin, perhaps MLS’s most successful homegrown, is also the league’s first HGP to sign a contract with a team from one of Europe’s top three leagues.

    Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are MLS franchises (Last Toronto jab for the night, I promise).  It takes a tremendous amount of patience, innovation, and financial stability.  It took five years, but Seattle has gone from an expansion team to king of the hill. 

    They had no model of how to be this successful in this kind of league, and had to blaze their own path. But now that it has been done, you can bet that every other team will be following in their wake. Don Garber may say that New York City and Orlando are who we have to thank for phase two of our league, but in truth the Seattle Sounders is MLS’s next unsung hero.  Take notes, everybody.