The Seattle Sounders get a take 2 to start their MLS Cup Championship defense tomorrow in frigid Montreal.
I am glad the away locker room was quiet and frustrated in Houston last week (I hoped to get a midweek post up but, much like our boys in Rave Green, I am starting the season slow). The Sounders lost a very winnable match and seem eager to get off the schneid and start rocking the crown with swagger.
Too much smack has been talked about the Sounders this past offseason. I am seriously done of reading about their “Fluke Win.” Honestly, Portland didn’t put up with this crap. Neither did Colorado or RSL on their miracle Cup runs.
The idea that absolute minnows can win MLS Cup, the stereotype being lobbed at Seattle, is a shaky premise. Maybe it was true, once upon a time, but MLS in 2017 is not the same animal as MLS in 2007. Let’s break this down a second. For the sake of argument, let’s start the “modern era” with 2009 (we’re all Sounders fans here).
The strongest argument for the minnow-to-champs theory is that an outta-nowhere RSL, then Colorado, won in ‘09 and ‘10. And that arguably, arguably!, that feat was just repeated by Portland and Seattle.
Back when RSL and Colorado won it all, Western sides could still go through the East’s bracket, and vice-versa. This dramatically unbalanced the already chaotic playoffs (see my previous post about Western dominance in the MLS Cup Championships).
However. For the most part, one of the best teams has won MSL Cup every year. A dominant L.A. owned the seasons between 10 and 15, with an equally strong SKC knocking off RSL in the only outlier. That RSL squad that came out of nowhere in 2009? They were a young team ascending that entrenched itself among the elite.
So only the Rapids truly came outta nowhere and returned to nowhere after their Cup win (though Dallas, the squad they beat, also came out of nowhere; to be fair, Dallas has a strong culture and academy and just needed a proven coach in Oscar Pareja to harness that potential). So with RSL identified as not a fluke champion, only Portland and Seattle remain under scrutiny.
Expect more of this
Was Portland’s Cup a fluke win? Well…. as much as I want to say yes, the Timbers have been competitive since Caleb Porter brought Soccer For Dummies to Pee Town. Though in only 2013 were they an elite team, back when Porterball was new and the rest of the league hadn’t read the Sparknotes.’15 was their Cup year and ‘14 and ‘16 were their “just under the thin red line” years.
A quick aside: For those new to the site, I am a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Back in the ol’ heyday of Andy Reid, the Eagles were a team that positioned themselves as a perennially title contender. The Birds were regular NFC champs who went deep in the playoffs year after year, but could never cash in any of that success (ask Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s. All you can rally control is your positioning for the playoffs, after that it’s a crapshoot).
Portland has positioned themselves as merely a pesk in the West. You are who your record says you are, (to quote the Big Tuna) and Portland is regularly the 6th/7th-best team in the conference, always just within spitting distance of the playoffs. That is, to be fair, a formula that works in league like MLS. Portland seems content to buy a wildcard lottery ticket every season. As long as Porter has the Timbers close to the mix every season, all they need is a double-posted PK to become a serious threat.
The Sounders, on the other hand, are like those 2000s Eagles: a team built to perennially contend. Seattle regularly finishes close to the top of the West and wins silverware. Regardless of past seasons’ failures, Seattle was always considered a major contender in the West and for the Cup.
In reality, the odds just finally regressed to the mean. Last season was a “fluke win” as much as ’14, ’11 and ’12 were “fluke losses.” In those seasons the Sounders were legit contenders who unluckily stumbled in the playoffs. I see absolutely no reason why ’17 will be any different.
The Sounders will play well. The Sounders will finish near the top of the West. The Sounders will make noise in the playoffs. Will they win it all again. Who knows. It’s always a crapshoot.
BOLD PREDICTION: Tomorrow in Montreal, inside a dome, the Sounders will draw 2-2. Last week’s showed the defense weaknesses yet at 100%, but the Sounders can and will score. Nico and Deuce continue to work together and we’re all in for a fun ride.