Now that the Sounders are bringing the playoffs back to Seattle, sports fans region-wide can let out a collective sigh of relief. As an expansion team, their current postseason run is almost unheard of. Among the four major American sports, only the Orlando Magic of the NBA, and the Sounders and Chicago Fire of MLS have done well enough to make a place for themselves in their respective league’s playoff system.
Not counting the Storm and their yearly tradition of postseason games (if I count them, the point of this column isn’t nearly as direct) this will be the first playoff game in Seattle since 2008, when the Seahawks beat the Washington Redskins in the NFL division round. The Seahawks started off great, but had their asses handed to them in Brett Favre’s last playoff run in a Packer uniform (and perhaps last playoff run ever).
Since then, the city’s sports scene has been in a lull, culminating in every Seattle team having a losing season in 2008. The Mariners lost 101 games, the Seahawks dropped 12, and the Sonics lost their existence. The arrival of the Sounders delivered a defibrillator to the heart of Qwest Field, and that spark spread to the Mariners, who posted the best turnaround in MLB last year. Sadly, it doesn’t seem that the Seahawks have received those life-giving juices despite their obvious and desperate need, considering all the injuries the team has faced.
Perhaps in retrospect the success the Sounders have enjoyed should have been obvious. On the attendance side of things, the team plays in a state that has more soccer league participants than any other state in the union.
On the business side, the team was backed by two very rich men in Paul Allen and Joe Roth, was organized by Adrian Hanauer and Chris Henderson, and had a great front man in Drew Carey.
On the field, the club started with Sigi Schmid, the most successful coach in MLS history. He went about building a team that features two European superstars, and cut no corners creating a mix of fresh talent and experienced veterans. Picking up unproven youngsters like Fredy Montero and Osvaldo Alonso was just as important as adding leadership with Freddie Ljungberg, Kasey Keller, and Tyrone Marshall.
The team has already shown they can make a deep run in a playoff format. The U.S. Open Cup started with 32 teams, and the Sounders fought through five rounds of sudden death soccer to take home their first hardware.
It could even be said that the cup saved their season. The team was marred in a winless streak going into the final game in Washington, D.C., but, since that game, has turned that streak on its head. The Sounders ended the season with three wins, including one at league-leader Columbus and two more that required comeback victories. They are hitting their stride at the right time.
But what of their MLS playoff competition? The first round will see the team play the Houston Dynamo, a team they have beaten 2-1 this season. If the Sounders win the two-game series against the Dynamo, they will move on to face either the LA Galaxy or Chivas USA. The victor in that matchup will play in Seattle for the pinnacle of soccer in America, the MLS cup. Whether the Sounders make it to the big game or not, the soccer world of the USA will have its eyes on Seattle, as the location of the game is already set in the Emerald City. At this point, however, it would only seem right to see Seattle’s newest successful team play for the league championship right in front of the biggest fan base in MLS.