Stories of the Year: Seattle Sounders win Supporters' Shield, US Open Cup

MLSsoccer.com polled 22 of our editors, writers, videographers, statistics specialists and social media masters to bring you the Stories of the Year, our annual look at the biggest storylines from the outgoing year in Major League Soccer. Contributor John Bolster relives Seattle's double-trophied season.

Hey Timbers Army, we’ve got a chant for you to break out next time you face your archrivals from up North on I-5.

“You’re all about that bass, ’bout that bass … [wait for it] … no treble!”

You’re welcome.

But, sick burn aside, the truth is that the Seattle Sounders had a terrific season by any measure in 2014.

Yes, they fell just short of an unprecedented three-trophy campaign, but they did win their fourth Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup—in only their sixth year of existence—and they won their first Supporters’ Shield as the team with the league’s best regular-season record (20-10-4).

To cop a phrase from another, much older pop star, Meatloaf (ask your Dad)—two out of three ain’t bad. No it ain’t—and in this case not by a long shot.

Seattle not only won two trophies, they also became the first MLS team of the post-shootout era to rack up 20 wins in a season. They produced an MVP candidate in striker Obafemi Martins (17 goals and 13 assists in 31 games), a revitalized superstar in Clint Dempsey (15 goals and 10 assists in 26 games), and the Defender of the Year in a rejuvenated Chad Marshall.

And Marshall wasn’t the only guy who reignited his career in Seattle this season: Goalkeeper Stefan Frei made the short list for Comeback Player of the Year, returning to form after two injury-marred seasons in Toronto, and manager Sigi Schmid became a Coach of the Year nominee just one season after some fans wanted him fired by majority owner Joe Roth.

Following the team’s late-season swoon in 2013—when they went winless over the last seven games of the regular season and got routed by Portland in the Western Conference semifinals—Roth called a meeting with Schmid and general manager Adrian Hanauer.

“It was close,” Roth said of Schmid’s job status. “I was upset. And I thought, ‘Well, I could fire this guy, who, to me, is one of the two best coaches in the league. He’s won a championship in L.A. and in Columbus. You’ve either gotta fire him or fire the players.’ So I fired the players.”

Out the door went Eddie Johnson, aging playmaker Mauro Rosales, goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, and center backs Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni. In came Marshall, Guatemalan international Marco Pappa, former Mexican international Gonzalo Pineda, and Frei—along with spot-duty attackers Chad Barrett and Kenny Cooper.

There was, of course, the risk that all the new parts would struggle to fit together properly—or wouldn’t fit at all—in this high-stakes, win-now season. And they did take some time. Pappa in particular had a slow start, gifting a goal to Jermain Defoe with a sloppy turnover in a 2-1 loss to Toronto on March 15, the same game in which Dempsey incurred a two-game suspension for an unfortunate “hand-to-ball” incident on Toronto defender Mark Bloom.

Seattle dropped two of their first four games, then had to rally furiously behind two goals from Dempsey just to tie a Timbers team on April 5 that was winless up to that point in the season.

Five games into the season they were 2-2-1, but Seattle’s dramatic comeback at Portland seemed to kick them into gear, and, vroom, off they went. They won five straight games after the Portland shootout, and Dempsey topped the league in goals with eight.

They went on to win nine of 11 matches, and even after losing Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin to World Cup duty, came through the month of June with two victories in MLS and two in the US Open Cup. By July, they’d opened up a 10-point lead atop the Western Conference standings.

On July 13, with Dempsey and Yedlin back in the fold, Seattle downed Portland 2-0 in front of a season-high crowd of 64,207 at CenturyLink Field. Seattle’s lowest attendance figure this season was 38,441—yes, the Sounders faithful had a banner year, too.

While Dempsey carried the club early, Martins stepped to the fore down the stretch, bagging four goals and four assists in the last five games of the season. Of course the two of them were instrumental all season long, attacking opponents up the gut with a pinpoint, one-touch passing game that was highly entertaining to watch. But they were by no means alone this season: Lamar Neagle chipped in nine goals and nine assists, Pappa had six goals and five assists, Wayne Rooney doppelganger Barrett scored seven goals, and Pineda was a key addition in midfield, expertly complementing tenacious mainstay Osvaldo Alonso.

Yes, that loss, by an away goal, to LA in the Western Conference Championship will linger, but Seattle have much to celebrate this year. The Supporters’ Shield race came down to the final week of the season, in a home-and-home set between Seattle and LA. Martins set up three of the Sounders’ four goals over the two matches, and in the finale, Pappa, his early-season gaffe long forgotten, came on as a second-half sub to deliver two goals—and the second trophy of the year—to Seattle in their season to remember.