SEATTLE – The Seattle Sounders weren’t touching the 'D' word with a 10-foot pole on Sunday.
Defeat? No, the stomach-churning specter of a humiliating loss to Toronto FC in front of the biggest crowd in their club’s history was very real to the MLS Cup hosts; postgame, goalkeeper Stefan Frei admitted that the idea kept him tossing and turning the night before, uncharacteristically limiting him to a half-hour’s worth of sleep. And the visitors’ assertive performance left the Sounders working against the ball for far longer stretches than they’d hoped or planned for until a deflected strike from right back Kelvin Leerdam broke the deadlock in the 57th minute.
However, as they have on so many occasions over the past half-decade, Seattle found a way. Whether you consider it opportunism, resilience, superior talent, plain good fortune or some cocktail of all of the above, the 3-1 victory that delivered the title left the Rave Green atop MLS again. And now they're fielding questions about whether they’re the league’s newest dynasty.
The club's general reaction? Thanks, but no thanks.
“Dynasties don’t call themselves dynasties,” said Frei. “We’ll let others say what we have done. For us, we want to consistently fight for trophies, we want to keep winning trophies, and if someone doesn’t want to call us a dynasty, that’s fine with me. We won today. It wasn’t the prettiest game, but I couldn’t care less.”
Answered quietly-influential midfielder Gustav Svensson, a World Cup veteran from Sweden: “I don’t know, I’m not the one to say. I’m just happy that we won, I’m just happy that we came through as a team. … It’s been a tough year, but that makes it even sweeter to win this.”
After a second MLS Cup title in four years, the Sounders sound more than content to leave it to fans and pundits to debate their place in the wider pantheon, especially following a marathon season that tested the belief of even the most committed soldiers in the locker room.
“I don’t think many of us thought that we were going to be here, to be honest,” said Svensson. “As the season progressed there was a lot of adversity, there was a lot of hard games. We didn’t play as well as we wanted to, we didn’t get the results we wanted to. But we figured out a way to change it, we figured out a way to win games, we figured out a way to get our final here in Seattle, and we figured out a way how to win this game. It’s just how we are. It’s what we are.”
Conversations with players and staff about the bigger picture in Seattle tend to center around methodical elements like process and culture, and the combined effects of a virtuous cycle that starts with a huge fanbase and soccer-crazed region. That served as the foundation for organizational stability and care, and a squad full of players who recognize the special nature of Sounderdom in MLS.
“We have a lot of guys playing who are in the prime of their careers, who maybe aren’t the biggest names, but could be playing anywhere in the world,” said midfielder Harry Shipp, for whom Seattle is the third stop in a six-year pro career. “For them to choose to be here and want to be here, one is a testament to the club, the fans. I think they feel like it’s on par with other top-quality leagues around the world and they feel happy here and want to stay here, and I think it adds up to an environment that’s very competitive.
“We have 20 guys that probably could be starting around the league. For myself included, you have a role on the team that, you could have a bigger role on other teams that maybe are a little less talented, but you’re happy to be here because you have a chance to end the season like this. And that’s what every team and every player dreams of ending a season like.”
Many around MLS have developed an infatuation with sleek newcomers like LAFC and Atlanta United who’ve hit the league with burgeoning ambitions and budgets to match. A decade on from their own splashy entry, that may have thrown a bit of shade over the original flashy expansionists from Seattle.
“Look, we’re up here in the Northwest doing our thing. We want to be consistent, we want to have the chance to challenge for championships every year,” said owner Adrian Hanauer, calling his current group “just stewards” of a team whose roots run much deeper than MLS’s 25-year existence. “We want to deliver a great, entertaining product to our fans, we want to impact our community. Our vision here is to create moments, enrich lives and unify through soccer. And I think today was quite an example of that. And [I’m] not all that concerned with what other people are doing; just want to continue to plow ahead for Sounders FC.
“We’ll celebrate the victory tonight, but we’ll go back to work tomorrow morning. We’re a pretty humble group,” Hanauer added. “We’ll try to continue to create more relevance in our community, deeper roots, more fans. Have the right sort of character and commitment to community and we’ll just go back to work and try and build the club starting tomorrow. Adding more bricks to the foundation."