TUKWILA, Wash. – For Seattle Sounders, Sunday’s match with Toronto FC presents an opportunity, not just to land a second MLS Cup in four years but to regain their place as the league's standard-setter.
After entering MLS in 2009, the Sounders became the benchmark, not just for an expansion team, but for any team. Immediately smashing league-record attendance marks and seeing that average climb year-on-year, Seattle brought a supporter culture to rival any club in the world. On the field, they immediately, and repeatedly reached the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Then, in their sixth year, they won the Supporters’ Shield and in their eighth year they landed MLS Cup. Twelve months later they went back to MLS Cup again, only falling short to Toronto in the final.
But then Atlanta United and LAFC came along and changed everything. At Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta instantly wrested Seattle’s crown as the attendance-king, smashing the average-attendance record. Atlanta delivered even more swiftly than the Sounders on the field, too, winning MLS Cup in just its second year in the league in 2018.
This year it has been LAFC that have grabbed the headlines. In the 2019 regular season, their second in MLS, LAFC set the points record en route to romping to the Supporters’ Shield and prompting raving coverage about how the organization had been built to succeed from day one.
“Well obviously look, the league is growing,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said following training Wednesday. “We have a lot of press coverage around here so I wouldn’t say that we’ve declined or anything like that. Certainly Atlanta, certainly LAFC have raised the profile of our league. And that’s a good thing, it is an absolute good thing, it just shows the growth of our sport.”
Despite all the accolades that have gone the way of Atlanta and LAFC, it is Seattle still standing going into the final game of MLS 2019. After an up-and-down regular season and near-elimination at home to FC Dallas in a 4-3 thriller in Round One of the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, the fact that the Sounders will host MLS Cup Sunday (3 pm ET | ABC, Univision, TUDN, TSN, TVAS) sends a powerful message about their place in the league's pecking order, said midfielder Gustav Svensson.
“Being able to win the Western Conference and then have the final here means a lot to us and I think it shows that we are a team to reckon with and I think it shows that we have a lot of players who will never give up," he said. "Doesn’t matter how we play or who we play, we’ll always end up at the right side of the scoreboard”
And Schmetzer, a Seattle native, is fully aware that MLS Cup in front of a sold-out CenturyLink Field presents a golden opportunity to showcase what the club, and the city, has to offer.
“It is a chance for us, people from Seattle that work within the organization, to really put on a good show," he said. "We don’t talk enough about what the people in the office are doing. They’re working as hard as the players are to put on a good event, a big event, a grand event and hopefully that will bring a little bit of attention to our corner of the world. But I never felt that we’ve ever lost that attention."
"Being a Seattle guy, I'm really proud of what the organization has accomplished."