Whether ballyhooed or much maligned, the home and home series between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders is set to kick off this weekend. No more distractions, no more excuses, just two teams ready to compete.
At the beginning of the season, the MLS schedule, especially Los Angeles’s, appeared to be made by a drunken bumpkin. In their first five league games, the Gals played Salt Lake and Vancouver twice (the odd game being against Chivas). And the back-to back with Seattle loomed at the end of the season as another odd scheduling anomaly. Well here we are and, well… it’s about to get real.
Seattle and Los Angeles will play for the first piece of MLS silverware, Supporter’s Shield, the top seed in the West, home field advantage throughout the playoffs, a CCL berth and historical vindication. But these teams have been competing all season. Since L.A. turned it on in late May, they’ve only lost three times (the most recent being last week in Frisco) and have been locked in a meta-fight with Seattle for league’s best. Every win brought L.A. closer to the table-topping Sounders. Fans of each team started scoreboard watching over a month ago, waiting and hoping for the other team to stumble. Neither disappointed.
Seattle and Los Angeles are both super teams. Both are on the verge of being historically great MLS teams, Seattle due to their potential win total and L.A. due to their goal differential. But as a pair, these two will also continue a historic trend.
This season is only the fourth time in the non-Shootout era that two teams will finish with greater than 60 points (coincidentally, and you already knew this, Seattle and Los Angeles were the pair that did so in 2011). And this season is the first time that the two 60-point super teams will settle the Shield directly on the pitch.
The shootout era ended in 1999. Beside 2011, 2012 and 2005 are the only other supertwin seasons. With three of these seasons coming in the last four years, we’re witnessing a changing era in MLS play. The consistent uptick in the number of dominant teams will continue as disparity increases. MLS is slowly starting to mirror soccer leagues around the world with more minnows and a few sharks. Expansion is one reason for this change. The talent pool gets thinner as the number of teams increases, thus a team’s scouting and coaching start to show much more. But the advent of the Designated Player rule is the chief cause of disparity in MLS and thus multiple 60-point teams.
Dominant seasons are directly correlated to the expanding DP rules. Though 2007 was the first year of the DP, 2010’s ruling allowed each team two DPs with a third available via a luxury tax (this limitation was cut in 2012). Now any team with the money can field international-caliber players as a third of their lineup. Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane have driven the Galaxy to their many victories, as have Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey for the Sounders. MLS is becoming a DP arms race. After Keane made short work of Seattle in the Western Conference finals, it was no secret Seattle wanted “their own Keane” and pursued Oba. These players all have a legitimate claim to “best player in MLS,” and Oba and Keane are battling it out for league MVP. None of these stars (except Landycakes, of course) would’ve given MLS a sniff if the money wasn’t right.
MLS still has a strict and stable salary cap. Complementing stars with quality non-DP players is still important, as Gyasi Zardes and Lamar Neagle are key cogs for both teams’ attacks. Both are potent scorers whose stats are padded because of the attention opponents need to pay to the stars. However, the CBA expires at the end of this season and rumor has it that the salary cap will increase greatly and a potential fourth DP will be allowed. If this occurs, we can expect more supertwin seasons, and maybe even a big four-esque status quo.
Whether MLS will be ballsy enough to schedule future supertwins in a home-and-home series to end the season remains to be seen. This season, we are lucky. Seattle and Los Angeles get to settle a season long debate. And the Sounders get a shot at revenge.