Trophies: 2009 U.S. Open Cup, 2010 U.S. Open Cup, 2011 U.S. Open Cup. In previous incarnations: 2007 USL First Division champion, 2005 USL First Division champion, 1996 A-League champion, 1995 A-League champion, 1981 Trans-Atlantic Challenge Cup.
Fan personality: Enthusiastic. Maybe a little arrogant at times, forgetting the work other soccer communities have done to build MLS, but if you ever have a chance to march to the stadium with the band and the fans, you’re likely to forgive them.
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Stadium situation: CenturyLink Field, formerly Qwest Field, is the one NFL stadium that the local MLS team is in no hurry to flee. The Sounders and Seahawks work well together, and the fans fill everything but the upper sections that the team doesn’t sell. This isn’t some crowd of 10,000 being swallowed up in Giants Stadium — this is a powerful atmosphere of more than 30,000 fans in which no one minds a few rows of empty seats at the top of the stadium. The artificial turf can be an issue, particularly for TV viewers tired of seeing the green-clad Sounders blend into the field.
The Seattle Sounders were one of the big names of the NASL, drawing big crowds to the Kingdome through the league’s heyday.
A second version of the Sounders started in the APSL and continued through its merger into the USL A-League, later the USL First Division. In 1994, the team debuted with a first-place regular-season finish. In 1995 and 1996, the Sounders won the title. The USL began to shed pro teams over the years, but Seattle stayed strong, racking up a remarkable 23-1-4 record in 2002 before losing to archrival Vancouver in the playoffs.
The organization was strong, adding a women’s affiliate and an amateur team that played in the lower USL leagues. Championships followed in 2005 and 2007.
Seattle had long been an MLS expansion prospect. A bid was floated when the NFL’s Seahawks built their field. When a diverse ownership group came together — Adrian Hanauer was ready to stay with the team from USL to MLS, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen provided a Seahawks-Sounders link, Hollywood mogul Joe Roth stepped up as majority owner, and comedian Drew Carey put his money where his soccer-evangelist mouth had long been — MLS gladly said yes.
The Sounders name was supposed to die when the team started in MLS. A fan vote was held between the options Seattle Alliance, Seattle FC and Seattle Republic. The write-in vote won. The owners — particularly the ebullient Carey — had been touting their commitment to fan input, so they were hardly in a position to say no.
GM Hanauer and technical director Chris Henderson immediately put together a decent team, starting with coach Sigi Schmid, fresh from winning his second MLS Cup with with his second team (Columbus). The Sounders made the playoffs in that first year of 2009, a difficult task these days. And they won a trophy right away, beating D.C. United on the road to take the Open Cup and qualify for CONCACAF play. In 2010, they repeated as a playoff team and Open Cup champion. And again in 2011. The other accomplishment of 2011 — a win on Mexican soil, defeating Monterrey 1-0 in CONCACAF Champions League play.
They haven’t managed to turn this momentum into more success, though the Sounders reached the conference finals for the first time in 2012. They did, however, lose the Open Cup for the first time in their MLS days, only reaching the final. The horror.
It’s not a team of huge names, especially since the departure of Arsenal veteran Freddie Ljungberg and the retirement of prodigal goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who finished his distinguished career with MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honors in 2011. Fredy Montero, whose name sounded so mellifluous in the commentary of Arlo White, has gone on loan back to his Colombia with Millonarios.
But Cuban-born central midfielder Osvaldo Alonso was a Best XI selection in 2012, Brad Evans has emerged as a national team player, and Eddie Johnson has simply revived his career in Seattle.