Seattle Sounders lift MLS Cup 2019

Editor's Note: columnist Bobby Warshaw unveiled his list of the top 5 clubs of the last decade in MLS. The list can be found below, followed by a closer look at his No. 1 team.

5. FC Dallas

4. Sporting Kansas City

3. New York Red Bulls

2. LA Galaxy

1. Seattle Sounders

Greatness involves two qualities: Excellence and Consistency. The ability to reach exceptional heights, and the resilience to maintain a certain level. You can neither be a shooting star nor a steady stream. You must demonstrate both height and width.

Two MLS Cup victories. Three MLS Cup appearances. Three U.S. Open Cups. One Supporters' Shield. Excellence.

Ten straight years in the playoffs (11 in total), the longest streak in the league. The highest points per game total over the last 10 years (for teams who have been in the league more than three years). Consistency.

The Seattle Sounders have provided both over the last 10 years. For it, they are the MLS Club of the Decade.

2 MLS Cups (2016, 2019)
3 MLS Cup appearances (2016, 2017, 2019)
1 Supporters’ Shield (2014)
3 U.S. Open Cups (2010, 2011, 2014)

The Sounders meant business from the second they joined MLS in 2009. They poached Sigi Schmid, one of the two unquestioned prized coaches in MLS at the time, from Columbus; and they signed Freddie Ljungberg, Kasey Keller and Fredy Montero to their inaugural season, and Eddie Johnson a couple of years later. They were good from their inaugural opening day.

They struggled to become more than good, however, mostly because they had Goliath in front of them. The LA Galaxy were hitting their stride at the start of the decade and firmly in the midst of a dynasty. Seattle got bounced by Landon Donovan, David Beckham and co. three times in the first five years of the decade. There wasn't a question of whether the Sounders were good, but there also wasn't a question that the Galaxy were better.

In response, the Sounders diversified. MLS Cup was a stretch, but the Open Cup was not. The club prioritized Open Cup — the coaching staff played their best players, the management group pushed for home games and the fans brought the juice — and they won the tournament four of their first six years in the league (the first coming in 2009). The club gave their fan base trophies from the start. 

With MLS Cup next on their minds, the Sounders looked to enter the Galaxy’s tier in 2013. Obafemi Martins signed from La Liga prior to the season, and Clint Dempsey joined from the Premier League during the summer window. Montero and Johnson were stars; Martins and Dempsey were superstars. Either Martins or Dempsey on his own could have been the focal point of any attack in MLS. Together, they formed one of the five best attacking duos in league history. Schmid played a 4-4-2 and let his two studs run wild. They made opponents look silly and the Sounders beat the Galaxy to the Supporters' Shield. It felt like Martins was doing this stuff like on a regular basis:


But then Martins left after the 2015 season and the Sounders hit adversity for the first time at the start of 2016. They opened the season 6-12-2 and appeared destined to miss the playoffs for the first time in their MLS tenure.

Two major events took place next. First, Schmid departed and Brian Schmetzer took over. Second, Nico Lodeiro arrived from Boca Juniors. You know the story from there. They finished the year 8-2-4, scrambled into the playoffs and sprinted to their first MLS Cup appearance. They held Toronto to a 0-0 draw on an icy night, thanks largely to a mesmerizing Stefan Frei save, and then Roman Torres smashed home the shootout winner.

The 2017 and 2018 seasons took on similar arcs: ugly starts followed by furious finishes. Both years, the Sounders left themselves with giant mountains to climb in order to get into the playoffs. Both years, they climbed their way up. In 2017, they made MLS Cup for the second year in a row (though came out on the losing end to Toronto this time). In 2018, they signed Raul Ruidiaz midseason and accumulated the best half-season record in league history. They finished the year 14-2-0. That 2018 team might have been their best of the decade, but injuries in the playoffs meant a second-round loss to the Timbers.

Strangely, though, there were questions heading into the 2019 season. Ozzie Alonso departed as a free agent and the Sounders didn’t make a splash to replace him in Schmetzer's 4-2-3-1. GM Garth Lagerwey acknowledged early in the beginning of the previous season, "I think the days of Seattle being the biggest spender in the league are probably behind us." They opted to leave their final Designated Player spot open, watching from afar as Portland, LAFC and the Galaxy made big-money transfers. When Chad Marshall had to retire due to injuries in June, their championship hopes took another dent. Once again, Seattle trudged through the first half of the year. It felt like the Sounders might have fallen off the top perch, or at least a new one had been built above them by LAFC and Atlanta.

As has become custom, however, the Sounders finished strong and secured the No. 2 seed in the West for the third straight year. They set themselves up for one of the best performances in playoff memory. The Sounders went to Banc of California Stadium to play an all-time great side, LAFC, and put together one of the best 90 minutes you'll ever see. It was a spectacular performance in every sense, and probably more impressive than either MLS Cup win. Ruidiaz and Lodeiro, in particular, played at another level.

It's been a decade marked by big moments for the Sounders. One side effect of those big moments: a large cast who have created them. When you look back on the past 10 years, there's a diverse group of the players who have defined the club. Players like Zack Scott and Roger Levesque ushered the organization to its new era in Major League Soccer. Steve Zakuani, Montero, Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin made the team sexy. Martins and Dempsey raised the profile. Alonso and Marshall carved their faces into the MLS Mount Rushmores for their specific positions. Lodeiro and Ruidiaz brought Cups. And Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris might be more beloved by the fanbase than the rest put together. When you think of the Sounders, you think of the hardened lower-league players, millionaires and local kids all in the same picture.

Why do the Sounders get the top spot over the Galaxy? LA fans will tell you that the Sounders didn’t accomplish anything as impressive as what the Galaxy achieved early in the decade, in either quantity of Cups and Shields or quality of the sides. And there’s some truth to that. None of the Sounders teams dominated from start to finish like the Galaxy teams; the Sounders were outplayed in all three MLS Cup appearances.

Yet even when it wasn't pretty, the Sounders found a way to win. They have six trophies this decade. And, unlike the Galaxy, they competed in the playoffs every year. The Galaxy missed the playoffs twice and finished last once — I couldn't put a team that finished bottom of the table as the club the decade. 

The Sounders never had that problem. They were both the most reliable team this decade, and have a trophy case full of hardware to go with it.

Consistency and Excellence. The Seattle Sounders: The Club of the Decade.