One. More. Game. The year that felt/feels like a lifetime is almost over, and I can’t help but think we got the MLS Cup we deserved in the league’s 25th season.
Columbus Crew SC are an MLS original, a club saved via the sheer effort and devotion of their supporters and the investment of the Haslam family, and Seattle Sounders FC are the standard bearers this league’s modern era, four MLS Cup appearance in five years — two, maybe three championships depending on where the chips fall — and zero seasons outside the playoffs.
In my book, based on the complete body of work in 2020, these are the league’s two best teams. No fluky playoff runs here. Just sustained excellence, clear and coherent identities and a season’s worth of adversity to draw upon with just 90 minutes remaining to make history. The winner will have run the gamut in a year that provided every possible excuse to fall off.
If you’re reading this, I assume you’ll be watching MLS Cup (Saturday, 8:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info). Text your soccer-loving friends and family. Tell them to watch, too. Proselytize. The game is going to be a good one, and our local soccer tent only grows if we show up in the big moments (and also the little ones).
If you need a conversation starter, here’s a big question banging around in my brain ahead of MLS Cup on Saturday.
Are the Sounders an MLS dynasty … already?
In other words, do Seattle need to win their third MLS Cup in five years to earn dynasty status? Is their place in history reliant on the result or do their accomplishments make the match somewhat moot?
It’s hard to answer this question without defining “dynasty,” and revisiting the credentials of past teams that made the cut. Let’s start there, with the two clear and obvious MLS dynasties, to borrow a present-day soccer phrase we can all understand: 1996-99 D.C. United and 2010-14 LA Galaxy. You could argue the 1998-2003 Chicago Fire and 2001-07 Quakes/Dynamo have shouts, but that’s a conversation for another day.
1996-1999 D.C. United
- Eight trophies in four seasons
- 3x MLS Cup (1996, 1997, 1999) … Runners-up in 1998
- 2x Supporters’ Shield (1997*, 1999)
- 1x U.S. Open Cup (1996)
- 1x Concacaf Champions Cup (1998)
- 1x Copa Interamericana (1998)
* The Shield wasn’t created by the supporters until 1999, so while D.C. finished first overall in 1997, they did not receive silverware for that accomplishment. You can quibble about eight or seven trophies if you want, but arguing about that only proves how dominant D.C. were.
This D.C. team defined dynasty from the jump, and they did so with a cavalcade of all-time MLS greats: Bruce Arena, Jaime Moreno, Marco Etcheverry, Eddie Pope, Jeff Agoos, John Harkes and many, many more that deserve to be named. I recommend you listen to Extratime’s D.C. United Mount Rushmore exercise for more context. If it was there to be won, they won it.
2010-2014 LA Galaxy
- Five trophies in five seasons
- 3x MLS Cup (2011, 2012, 2014)
- 2x Supporters’ Shield (2010, 2011)
Same manager. What do you know?! The Galaxy could have won anything they wanted to win during this era. What Arena wanted to win was MLS Cup, and he didn’t sweat the rest of it.
Supporters’ Shield? These Galaxy probably could have won five, but being rested and ready for the playoffs was the priority once they checked the box in 2010 and 2011. U.S. Open Cup? RailHawk’d twice. Concacaf Champions League? The Puerto Rico Islanders put them out before the group stage. Bad Toronto FC knocked them out in the quarterfinals. No shame in losing to Monterrey and Club Tijuana in the knockouts, but those were still opportunities lost.
The only knock on those LA teams is they could have won more. Still, three MLS Cups in five years seals their dynasty status and so does the cast of all-time MLS players (Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, David Beckham, Omar Gonzalez) who got it done.
2014 (or 2016?) to present day Seattle Sounders
Alright, finally, the task at hand. First things first, we’ve got to define the era we’re evaluating.
Is it from the start of 2014, a Supporters’ Shield and USOC double season led by Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey? Or does the start point come in 2016, when Brian Schmetzer took over, Nico Lodeiro arrived and the Sounders won their first MLS Cup?
I’m saying it’s 2016. Had they won something in 2015, I might have been inclined to change my mind and widen the scope. They didn’t come particularly close, and that settles it for me. Here’s Seattle’s current dynasty resume.
2016-20 Seattle Sounders
- Two trophies in (almost) five seasons
- 2x MLS Cup (2016, 2019) … Runners-up in 2017
Clearly there’s a missing piece of the puzzle here: MLS Cup 2020. Four finals in five seasons is an incredible accomplishment. Only D.C. United’s original dynasty can match that, and they made four in four years, though in a very different league.
That said, Seattle haven’t even won the Western Conference during the past five seasons, let alone a Shield. They haven’t gotten past the quarterfinals in either the USOC or CCL. They’ve been killers in the playoffs, but just above-average otherwise. That leaves me with little choice…
VERDICT: Not yet a dynasty, but…
… should they win on Saturday in Columbus, I would crown the Sounders the third clear and obvious MLS dynasty in league history. In this league, MLS Cup is the ultimate prize. Despite the other silverware holes in Seattle’s resume, three championships in five years as well as another final appearance would push them over the hump for me. They’d be third in the all-time dynasty ranking in my opinion, but a dynasty all the same.
Sounders supporters’ right now: “Who cares whether Wiebe thinks we’re a dynasty?”
And that’s the right mindset! Truthfully, they have something even better than dynasty status, though I suspect they’ll crow about the big D too should they beat the Crew. They have the rightly held belief that their team can and ought to win trophies every single year. Every club in MLS would take that in a heartbeat, no matter how you label it.