The Seattle Sounders have been a model club over the past decade, and that consistency was rewarded with a second MLS Cup title on Sunday.
Once upon a time Seattle Sounders FC were the shiny new thing in MLS – breaking attendance records, making splashy signings, helping define what was dubbed “MLS 2.0” in their bright rave green.
But as the league has leapt forward and new model clubs have arrived in the spotlight, Seattle has settled into being a model of consistency.
On Sunday, Seattle lifted their second MLS Cup – beating Toronto FC 3-1 – and did it in front of their home fans for the first time. It was a fitting reward for a fanbase and organization that have done so much right over the past decade.
In 11 MLS seasons, the Sounders have never missed the playoffs. They’ve won four U.S. Open Cups, a Supporters’ Shield, reached the MLS Cup final three times in four years and have now won it twice.
After a scoreless first half, Kelvin Leerdam broke the deadlock with a deflected shot in the 57th minute. Victor Rodriguez – later named MLS Cup MVP – doubled the lead with a fine curling strike in the 76th minute and Raul Ruidiaz killed off the match in the 90th minute. Jozy Altidore got one back for TFC in stoppage time but it was too late, Seattle won the rubber match in this trilogy of cup finals.
After Sunday it’s clear that other clubs may do certain things bigger or better than Seattle, but not many clubs to do as many things as well as Seattle does them.
The crowd of 69,274 that saw Seattle lift the cup was the largest for any sporting event at CenturyLink Field. Over the past two years, Atlanta United has claimed nearly every MLS attendance record by packing a shared NFL stadium, but the boisterous atmosphere in Seattle on Sunday was a reminder that the Cascadians have been doing something similar for more than a decade now.
To reach that home final, Seattle knocked off a Los Angeles FC side that won the Supporters’ Shield with a record points total and had some ready to anoint them as the Greatest MLS Team Ever.
Nicolas Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz might not be quite the league-breaking MVP candidates that LAFC’s Carlos Vela was, but Seattle has never been afraid of spending on stars and this season their South Americans sparked them to the title. Elsewhere on the roster Seattle boasts homegrown USMNT talent, shrewd draft picks and smart signings.
In his post-match press conference on Sunday, Seattle manager Brian Schmetzer was visibly choked up as he said, “Most importantly, the players and the fans deserve this. The players persevered … they never quit. The fans never stopped believing. So I’m very, very happy and proud of the city and the fans.”
Schmetzer personifies the club’s relationship with the city. As Ari Liljenwall wrote for MLSsoccer.com:
“Schmetzer is a Seattle guy through and through, born and raised in the area, and signing with the NASL iteration of the club straight out of high school in 1980. His long and winding playing career saw him bounce around a little bit, but he always managed to circle back, and wound up head coach of the Sounders when they were a USL team – long before the giant crowds at CenturyLink Field that the club is known for today. When he took over as head coach of the MLS side midway through the 2016 season after seven-plus years as an assistant – and went on to lead the Sounders to their first MLS Cup title that very same year – it was a classic story of the local boy made good, bringing a championship to his hometown.”
The Seattle native has now delivered two championships to his local club. The connection between Schmetzer, his team and the thousands of people in that stadium rang loud and clear on Sunday.