The New York Yankees of MLS

The Sounders are the Yankees of MLS. We have no rings yet (let alone 26) but we sure act like the big man.

Frankly it feels weird. My Portland friends (almost an oxymoron), throw me a lot of the same grief that I throw Yankees fans: you buy your talent, you’re a bunch of prima donnas not a team, you can’t buy chemistry or championships. It feels weird because it’s somewhat true.

The Sounders aren’t content to just draft, scout, and develop talent (though they are getting good at this). Sure we found Fredy and Ozzie, we’re developing Rose and Yedlin, but we love to make splashy signings of established players and stars. It is becoming an unfortunate characteristic of the team (or “brand” if you’re reading Joe) to always be flirting with a foreign star or big-name veteran. Which would be okay, but we only keep these players for a season or less and ditch them.

Of course there were Drogba rumors. I don’t know tons about him other than his performances with Ivory Coast in World Cups. Yes, he’d probably be a solid addition to our team. But really? Really?! Why must we always be attached to every big name? Why must we flirt with another foreign star? We fouled up (and pardon if you’ve heard this before) with Ljundberg, Nkufo, Flacco, Tiffert, and Shalrie. Granted Ljundberg and Nkufo made quality contributions to their respective campaigns, but the overarching narrative is: Seattle flirts with big names, blows money, and moves on. Imagine if Robinson Cano just leaves the Mariners after this season. That is a rollercoaster of investment, financially and emotionally. And then imagine if the Mariners did it every off-season (actually, this might be an improvement to the Mariners narrative).

L.A. flirts with stars, signs them and mostly keeps them. We haven’t figured out the last part of the process yet. Last season was the worst example of this:

Do we want Shalrie Joseph? Hell yeah!
Do we want to throw Oba in here after the regular season started?  Yeppers!
Clint Dempsey is looking for work? Throw gobs of money at him!!
Adam Moffat is available at the very last second? Great! Let’s trade a developing  Carrasco      for him and then ditch his neckbeard immediately this offseason!

This is straight-up Daniel Snyder. I have never cheered for a big money team, and it feels weird to buy talent rather than develop it. Inauthentic for some reason. It is hard to identify and consider myself a fan of a behemoth. But the Sounders are positioning themselves to be one of the “Big Four” of MLS. They have the clout, the support and the quality to do it. However there is a problem with the city’s idea of itself.

Seattleites see their city as a forgotten town in a far corner of the country. Seattle has an inferiority complex and considers itself inferior to New York, San Francisco, Chicago, etc. We see these cities as being cosmopolitan and their sports teams as dominant. Seattle begs for more success, more recognition.

I’m from Alaska. As a Seattle transplant, I feel privileged to take a dual outsider/insider perspective. Seattle has always been Neo-Tokyo, the megalopolis of my region. Seattle wasn’t just another place in the Lower 48, it was urbanity manifested: traffic, skyscrapers, consumerism, culture. To a large swath of the country (the rest of Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Montana, Idaho) Seattle is Babylon, Mecca, king. Seattleites forget this, always and only comparing themselves to other, more established cities.

It’s like the elephant afraid of the mouse. Seattle is increasingly an economic engine of the whole nation: Boeing, Starbucks and a top three tech industry (if not #1). Artistically and culturally, Seattle rocks. I bet anyone can name five bands from Seattle faster than any other American city (try this with friends!). Sure, Seattle got started later than other cities (it was still mighty provincial just 30 years ago), but is now a giant waking up. I firmly believe that Seattle will be a major player in the next American century and that soccer will become the predominant American sport (globalization, concussions, etc).

I firmly believe that Joe Roth, et al. are betting on this. Don’t you think if the owners of Everton could go back in time knowing that the EPL would be the international league but only four or five teams would dominate the narratives and money, they’d have done something very different?

Seattle wants to be, if not the premier franchise in MLS, one of them. Damn if they’re not almost already there. Their beautiful attack, national attention, and international exposure are second to none. The awareness of their brand is growing. L.A. is our biggest competitor (they have it all, plus unparalleled success). NYRB and probably NYCFC could make some serious noise if they started to care. Thing is, Seattle already cares. We are essentially becoming the Pittsburg Steelers or Celtics. Not the Cowboys or the Lakers. The Red Sox, not the Yankees: a premier team if not the premier team.

Are we prepared for that?

Thanks so much for reading this first week. Have a happy Sounders weekend.

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