I categorized what Seattle’s had unique success with in four categories – Financial ambition, competitive ambition, community significance, and club history. While some MLS franchises have hit on some of these, nobody has hit on all four the way that Seattle has, and in the future some degree of hitting on all four should be what Major League Soccer franchises strive for if they intend to emulate the success of the Seattle Sounders. I will break down what these aspects may look like in the near future and connect them to teams I feel are currently doing well in these regards, and which need some work.
Let’s just break down how Seattle ended up with the sixteen players that saw the field for them last Wednesday:
WARNING – I AM GOING TO USE THE JARGON AND EXPLAIN NONE OF IT (I HAVE ALREADY TYPED SO MUCH). CHARLOTTE FC PUT OUT A HELPFUL GUIDE EXPLAINING THE JARGON LAST YEAR THAT YOU CAN CONSULT FOR INFORMATION
Signed From Outside of MLS on Designated Player Contracts: Raul Ruidiaz, Nicolas Lodeiro, Joao Paulo, Xavier Arreaga (Joao Paulo and Arreaga are no longer on DP deals, probably on TAM contracts now though since the players’ salaries for 2022 are not yet available)
Signed From Outside of MLS on GAM Contracts: Yeimar Gomez Andrade, Nouhou Tolo
Signed From Within MLS Through Free Agency: Albert Rusnak (currently on a DP contract), Fredy Monteiro, Kelyn Rowe
Signed From Within MLS Through Some Other League Mechanism: Stefan Frei (Traded for Draft Pick in 2013), Will Bruin (Traded for GAM in 2016)
Signed From MLS Superdraft: Cristian Roldan, Alex Roldan
Homegrown Signings: Jordan Morris, Jackson Ragen, Obed Vargas
What you’ll notice if you’re insane like I am is that they didn’t play anyone on either a Young DP or a U22 (YoungMoney™) Initiative contract. So there is more space to add good talent on this roster! (They only have one of their three U22 slots in use, on midfielder Leo Chu)
What I think this shows is that this roster is not the theoretical peak of what an MLS roster can be. Even with the anatidaeyonic nature of MLS roster regulations, excellent, deep teams can be built at this point in time.
But I feel that there is more that the league can allow for teams to do. There are team owners in this league that are willing to spend their money on acquiring and keeping good players (Adrian Hanauer being one of them) and we are 27 years into the league’s existence – The financial conservatism of early Major League Soccer was a necessity and one that I find to have been a good move to have kept the league from seeing the fate of the NASL wherein its richest teams well outspent the rest of the league and destabilized it – But we are past those days. MLS is here to stay, and has been for a while now, and I think it would benefit the league to build rosters like any other professional league does. This would allow for a higher caliber of player to be signed at all levels, primarily regarding depth pieces.
For all the excellent work they have done, Seattle has also been fortunate. One good example is that of their American stalwarts Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan, two high-quality players who wanted to have great careers in Major League Soccer. Garth Lagerway said as much on the postgame show hosted by the league from last Wednesday. Morbid as it is to say (and of course I do not mean to say that anyone involved with the club were happy with the way that it went, just that it went in a manner that helped them competitively), they are fortunate that Jordan Morris’ loan spell with Swansea in 2021 ended in a manner that had him come back to Seattle. Had he not been injured and if he’d played well, they might have transferred him to a European club like Orlando did with Daryl Dike last year after his successful loan with Barnsley.
They were fortunate that they didn’t really have significant injuries until the final match, when Nouhou and Joao Paulo went out early, they were fortunate that they’ve been able to hold on to their best players (in particular Lodeiro and Ruidiaz) for as long as they have. This is not to diminish what they’ve done – In particular, their culture and their support has helped them keep those good players around – but to say that future MLS teams will need to have good fortune if they wish to emulate the Sounders’ success.
Allowing for more spending will help teams cope when fortune turns against them. For example: Atlanta probably made a mistake with spending so much money on Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco in the past few years given the relatively poor return they got from them, but worse than signing disappointing players was the fact that, a missed DP signing meant that they only had the opportunity to sign two other players (and in practice only one more given that one slot was already dedicated to the well-deserving Josef Martinez) at a rate over a million or so. Sporting Kansas City got positively fucked over this year when two of their three designated player signings missed the entire season with injuries. They just can’t make up those two slots, theoretically (and accurately in this case) taken up by two of the team’s best players. I don’t know that they wanted to sign any more players at that rate- but if they had wanted to, they couldn’t have.
Three designated players is a completely arbitrary number, and there are teams who want to have more – Some owners have said they would do more if they could, and at least one did until he got caught. Increasing unrestricted spending on personnel is something that can (and I expect will to some extent, given the poorer-than-previously-assumed TV deal to come this year and the 2026 World Cup incoming) change in the coming years, that would help ambitious MLS teams in continental competitions.
Who is doing well?
It’s hard to list who’s doing well in this regard because I think that a good chunk of the league is doing a lot well in building rosters. NYCFC has probably done the best in terms of putting everything together (especially in the post-Villa/Pirlo/Lampard era) and they’re getting such good play from their academy players. Toronto has been just as ambitious even if last season was a bust for them, signing a player like Lorenzo Insigne at this point in his career is significant. Atlanta is doing everything that they can but they’ve had poor luck with some of their big signings and with injuries. LAFC keeps putting together good rosters through so many different methods, but they haven’t drawn much from their academy quite yet. Each of the recent expansion clubs – Austin, Nashville, Miami, and Cincinnati – have been ambitious in making signings, and its panned out better for some than others at this point.
Those teams that have entered the league recently are the ones pushing the league forward – But this does not mean necessarily that lethargy among the older teams is a given. You can already see it with Sporting Kansas City, FC Dallas (Who has quietly been making good use of the money they’ve made off of transferring the talent that has come from their academy system), and obviously the LA Galaxy as well. What’s more interesting to me are the older teams – those ridiculed for years for not having the ambition of the newer teams – in particular the New England Revolution since Bruce Arena came to the club in 2018 and the Columbus Crew under the Haslams, plus now Chicago and Salt Lake under their new owners.
What I am saying is that there are a lot of teams trying in this regard, and some of them are seeing it come to fruition. (I couldn’t find a good way to slip in teams like Vancouver, Portland, Orlando, and Houston who I think deserve praise for effort as well, also)
Who Could Do Better:
While the team seeing the most criticism for lethargy at the moment is San Jose, I think I have more criticism for two teams who have performed relatively well in the past few seasons – the Colorado Rapids and the Philadelphia Union. Both teams have been highly successful as of recent: Colorado finished first in the West in 2021, Philadelphia won a Supporters Shield in 2020, made the CCL semfiinals in 2021, was a slate of COVID cases away from hosting the 2021 MLS final, and they’ve done it without spending a lot of money. Philadelphia has only one player on a Designated Player contract right now. Colorado didn’t have any until they traded within the league for Gyasi Zardes a few weeks ago. Philadelphia hasn’t used a U22 slot yet, Colorado has only used one. These are both good teams that aren’t making use of the pathways available to build better, deeper teams.
For the record I also think the Red Bulls and DC United both could do more, though they’ve both been working at it. The pressure should be on those teams’ ownerships to make those changes in the future, they’re already very good, but it will take ambition to be great (and some looser purse strings) to get them to the next level.
One thing I touched on earlier that I feel played a significant role for Seattle in this tournament was their experience with Mexican teams in continental competition. Only one team, Toronto, has played as many matches against Mexican teams since Seattle’s first CCL appearance under Brian Schmetzer in 2018.
Lost in the hype (and naturally so) of Seattle’s run was that New York City FC had their longest Concacaf Champions League run to date as well in 2022. That those two were the teams to make those runs is not surprising given their performances in the 2021 Leagues Cup. While Seattle ran all the way to the final before losing to Léon, NYCFC put up an admirable performance in their first round match with Pumas despite losing in penalties. I obviously don’t know for sure, but I have to imagine that those good performances in the 2021 Leagues Cup gave both of those clubs some confidence, some evidence that shows that they can compete against quality Liga MX teams.
The new iteration of the Leagues Cup coming in 2023 will give every MLS team the opportunity to measure itself up against Liga MX competition. The new Champions League format will give even more opportunities to face international competition as well – Starting in 2024, there will be five MLS Clubs guaranteed slots (up from three currently), and up to ten MLS clubs total, counting slots for the US Open Cup winner, Canadian Championship winner, and the top three finishers in the Leagues Cup. In practice, I would guess that this will probably amount to around eight MLS clubs making the CCL each year, up from the current five that typically do. This should increase MLS teams’ familiarity with Liga MX teams (and vice versa), which should help them with the intimidation factor that plagues MLS teams in continental competition, and also push MLS teams to be more ambitious because they’re playing matches with such high stakes so commonly.
As it stands, not many MLS teams have recent experience in competitive matches against Liga MX teams. I only counted eight clubs as having played more than a single competitive round against Liga MX competition since 2018 when I did that math during the second part. The New England Revolution’s quarterfinal matchup with Pumas in 2022, for example, was their first competitive match against a Mexican team since playing Monarcas Morelia in the 2010 SuperLiga final. The Colorado Rapids, who didn’t play a Liga MX side in this tournament, losing out to Comunicaciones of Guatemala, have not played a competitive match against a Liga MX team since the 2011 CCL group stage, where they played against Santos Laguna.
This will not be the case in the coming years. Everyone’s going to get a match against a side from Liga MX every year for the foreseeable future, and now between two and five more teams each year will be in the Champions League. What MLS will feature by the end of this decade are a spate of teams who are well versed in playing continental competitions. No longer will the quality of Liga MX teams catch MLS teams by surprise – but they will still need to match it.
Who is doing well:
We’ve had MLS teams defeat Liga MX teams in the Concacaf Champions League in each of the past five tournaments, though Liga MX still holds a significant head-to-head advantage in that time frame. These were: Seattle (Léon and Pumas) in 2022, Toronto FC (Léon) in 2021, LAFC (Léon, Cruz Azul, América) in 2020, Sporting KC (Toluca) in 2019, and New York Red Bulls (Tijuana) and Toronto FC (Tigres and América) in 2018. Toronto’s win over Léon in 2021, I think is the most interesting of these because TFC ended up being such poor performers in 2021, finishing 26th of 27 teams in MLS, and Léon ended up being very good in 2021, sixth in the 2021 Clausura and third in the Apertura along with winning the Leagues Cup. Fluke wins and losses happen, but Toronto came into that round with a lot of experience and leaned on that to advance. Toronto has an easier path than most American MLS teams, only needing typically to win two games in order to qualify for the CCL, but in the coming years, when every MLS club is guaranteed a few matches against Liga MX teams in Leagues Cup, that experience will be easier to build up.
Who needs work:
Probably the best example that I can give regarding ambition in this sense was Sporting KC’s 2021 Leagues Cup performance, where they more or less admitted defeat and disinterest by putting out a lineup of mostly young, inexperienced academy players against Léon and lost in embarrassing fashion. At the time, I understood the decision (the roster was already thin with injuries, they were in the midst of a race for the top spot in the Western Conference for the playoffs, if it didn’t matter to them to win the Leagues Cup then there was no point in risking injury) but it came with a caveat that I would withhold criticism provided it was accompanied with postseason success (I should clarify also that I was in attendance for that match).
That wasn’t what happened, they lost in the conference semifinals, and thus follows my criticism: The future of MLS is going to involve difficult matches, and shying away from one like that (especially when none of the other three MLS teams in Leagues Cup did) does not reflect a healthy competitive mentality. I remember the 10-2 loss on aggregate to Monterrey in 2019 and the poor regular season that followed. As much as, yes, Leagues Cup was a cash grab and a cynical ploy to build up hype for the real tournament when it started officially in 2023, and as much as it probably didn’t matter in comparison to the MLS season, and as bad as things would have been had they lost key players to injury (though we lost a key player to injury in that match anyway), the match against Léon in 2021 offered a chance for Sporting KC to prove that they were a worthy team in Concacaf, much like they had proven by defeating Toluca in 2019. Instead, they took a less ambitious approach, and I think it affected their competitive mentality.
They really couldn’t close matches out in the latter half of 2021, they finished third in the conference despite multiple times down the stretch sitting in first place, and they really just didn’t have the competitive intensity in the playoffs, exemplified in the way that they stumbled down the stretch against Salt Lake in the conference semis.
More games like the one against Léon are coming in the future for Sporting KC. More games against Liga MX teams are coming for everyone in MLS – They have a decision to make – do they want to be ambitious? The other teams in the 2021 Leagues Cup that approached their first round match with an ambitious mentality. New York City used that ambitious mentality to win an MLS Cup. Seattle used that ambitious mentality to win the Champions League. Even Orlando finished the regular season strongly. Taking these opportunities seriously and having a competitive mentality will help MLS teams in many senses.
I asked the question earlier of how many teams in MLS could get 68,000+ spectators to a match. The Sounders are unique in that regard, only two other clubs in Major League Soccer (Atlanta and Charlotte) have the facilities to host that many people for a match, and Charlotte might be planning to move out of theirs (though don’t think they need to). But that is only the current state of things, and that can change for the better in the coming years if other MLS teams do some things well.
The Sounders are currently playing in their 29th season as a professional soccer team between the A-League, USL, and MLS, and they just broke the 68,000 mark for attendance for the first time in their history. But interestingly – You know who else finally broke the 68,000 mark for home attendance in their 29th season? The Seattle Seahawks. Monday Night Football in against the Dallas Cowboys in December 2004 was the first time that they’d ever hosted that many at then QWEST (Now Lumen) Field. The Kingdome could never host that many.
The Seahawks are known for having a large, intensive, and dedicated fanbase, though it wasn’t always that way. They struggled to get fan support to their stadium during their lean years in the 1970s and 80s, and even into the 2000s (Their first playoff game hosted at their current stadium didn’t break 60,000). They used to get routinely outdrawn by the Washington Huskies college team. It changed over time with success – they built up a winning culture under Mike Holmgren in the 2000s and then with Pete Carroll in the 2010s, and by the time that they won the Super Bowl in 2013, they’d become integral to the cultural fabric of their city.
A lot of big league sports teams that might seem like culturally dominant monoliths today have stories like this. Remember the New England Patriots nearly moved from Boston to St. Louis in the 1990s before Robert Kraft bought the team. NBA teams with great fanbases now like the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies struggled to get attendance in their early years in their current homes. Hockey is a good example of this, there are many cities that, for reasons of climate and culture, might not initially be expected to embrace an NHL team, like Tampa, Nashville, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles – But they have shown themselves to be good cities for professional hockey in recent years. What is so different about soccer?
It takes time (and I’ll get into that in the next section), it takes success, and it takes the development of an identity – But Major League Soccer teams will eventually reach a level of cultural relevance that can rival the Sounders.
This has already started to happen around the league. The 2000s saw nearly every MLS team (save for New England) move into smaller arenas from the homes they originally occupied. That was what was necessary at the time – it was less expensive to create a 20,000 seat stadium as compared to a 60,000 seat stadium, and ultimately, it was beneficial for in-game atmospheres. A capacity crowd of 19,000 at Toyota Stadium has a better effect than that same crowd taking up a quarter of the capacity at the Cotton Bowl.
But something interesting has happened since the 2010s came around – We’re starting to see MLS teams push up against the boundaries they set for themselves years ago. Portland, Toronto, and the LA Galaxy all increased their stadium capacity. The new stadiums in Cincinnati and Nashville both have the capacity for more than 25,000 spectators. We’re starting to see Major League Soccer teams become pillars in their communities. Like I mentioned earlier, we didn’t used to have parades for the MLS Cup winner, but Seattle, Portland, Toronto, and Atlanta all did after their wins in the late 2010s.
This will be the question for MLS teams going forward – Can you make yourself matter in your city? When you host your biggest game in your history, would you be able to draw 68,000 if you had the facility to do so? And when that day comes, would you build a facility with the capacity to do so? It has happened for other teams in other leagues, and it has happened with teams in this league.
I don’t know how you build that – Sustained success and years of effort are the easiest answers, but can you find a way to make yourselves matter? How many clubs in MLS could we honestly say could shut down city blocks and host a championship parade after winning the MLS Cup? I think it’s probably less than half.
A lot of teams are drawing well, but I think the next step is changing from being a spectacle to a stalwart part of the sports hierarchy. The Sounders did that in a variety of ways – They capitalized on becoming an MLS team right as the Mariners went through a string of lean years and the SuperSonics moved out of the city. They’ve won – and they’ve won a lot. They’re also unique in being sort of a flagship franchise of Major League Soccer, a team that can command big signings like they did with Clint Dempsey in 2014. Neither the Mariners nor Seahawks really give Seattle that, being a franchise that can pull weight within the league, the way that the Lakers do in the NBA, the Yankees do in MLB, and the Cowboys do in the NFL. Another thing (and I’ll get into this further down) is that they’ve made a point to build soccer in Seattle. That they have so many Seattle-connected players – academy products like Morris, Vargas, and Ragen, college products like the Roldan brothers (Cristian of UW and Alex of the University of Seattle) and Seattle natives like Rowe, I find to be a significant deal and something that MLS teams can work with in order to have a positive impact in their cities.
Who is doing well:
I briefly lived in Ontario, just outside of the Greater Toronto Area, for a period of time in late 2021 and I was struck by how normal of a franchise Toronto FC seemed to be. I saw people wearing their stuff about as much as I did the Raptors or Blue Jays, their players endorse products in TV ads, and while I wasn’t in Toronto proper, it seemed like a big deal when they were finally able to host spectators in their stadium in late 2021, even during what was a poor season for them. They felt like a normal, big league sports team. There are a lot of places in MLS (my own city included) that don’t have that yet.
I can’t speak personally to that feeling in any other places, and there’s no way to quantify it, but I think its just something to be felt. Do you see the team logo on advertisements in liquor stores, flags on the walls in sports bars, do they set the city busses to display statements of support during the playoffs? Do they light up buildings in the city in their colors? Do sports bars have to be asked to put the game on? Does local sports talk radio talk about them? Does local media count the team’s championships as significant? Are the people who attend matches watching the away games on TV? Can you feel an anticipation in your city the day of a big playoff game?
Some teams are closer than others, definitely. I think many of the more recent expansion clubs have done this better than some of the older clubs, which is what I’ll get into next.
Who needs work:
There is a unique sort of divide in MLS between the new and old clubs in terms of their place within their cities. There is sort of a common conception that Seattle’s entry in 2009 pushed the league into a new era – There were the years-old “MLS 1.0” franchises, those founded in the league’s first decade or so, and Seattle’s entry in 2009 kicked off “MLS 2.0” (Some will say that Toronto in 2007 was the first “MLS 2.0” team). “MLS 2.0” teams, those who came into existence in this period of rapid MLS expansion had active supporter cultures, they drew lots of fans to matches, they traveled well, and their ownerships acted with ambition not just in terms of building a team, but in making an impact on their city’s sporting culture as well. These new teams changed the culture, presenting something new and exciting, pushing back in ever growing numbers against what had become something of a stagnancy from those MLS 1.0 teams.
But what of those 1.0 teams?
I think that there are, in many cases, still scars for many of these clubs left by the memories of the league’s early days. Some teams have worked through them and have come out relatively successfully, but there are others really struggling to get positive momentum in terms of community influence. There is a negative cultural memory in many of these places – Memories of the quarter-full stadiums and the gimmicks to sell tickets that accompanied them, memories of times that those teams played in high school football stadiums or minor league baseball parks. In a lot of ways, this history actually presents a detriment to early MLS teams, and some have dealt with it better than others. History, though, does not necessarily have to be a detriment.
Seattle has, as of this year, been in MLS for longer than half of the league. There have been fourteen new expansion teams that have come into MLS since Seattle joined in 2009. Doesn’t that feel strange? They’ve also been a part of MLS for half of the league’s existence now – This is their fourteenth season in MLS, which is MLS’s twenty-seventh. They’re really no longer a ‘new’ team, and there’s nothing left really for them to do for the first time, short of succeeding in the Club World Cup. They’ve used their history for their own good, and they never really have had a period of stagnation, there’s always been ambition, always room to improve. Toronto, who’s been in MLS for longer than Seattle, has built a culture in much of the same way, never shying away from their early struggles to do so.
It is easier for the Atlantas and Austins (and yes, Seattles and Torontos) of the world to come in with positive momentum. They don’t have to deal with the cultural memory that plagues some of the older franchises, particularly the ones from the 1990s, memory that cemented them in the minds of many in their cities as a minor league team, or as an afterthought, or as a failure. It is easier to build upwards off of a solid foundation than to build out from a hole dug from years of stagnation. But it is not impossible to get out of.
For the sake of the next points I need to make it clear: I am treating the 2008 San Jose expansion team as a continuation of the original San Jose, while thinking of Houston as a club that started in 2006 for the sake of continuity. Chivas USA and LAFC are different clubs, as fun as it is to pretend they’re the same at the annoyance of LAFC fans. I’m defining “1.0” as the first twelve entrants that still exist, counting RSL, even though I recognize the argument that RSL is closer to Seattle and Toronto in municipal significance than the other teams they’re grouped with. RIP again to the Fusion and Mutiny. A lot of this is conjecture and hearsay and emotion to follow, I can’t really back it up with anything other than “It feels like this”.
Of these twelve, I’d say that there’s nobody quite on the level of the Sounders in terms of municipal importance. The Galaxy might be the closest, but Los Angeles is a specific sort of beast in terms of its sporting culture. I don’t know how many of these clubs would get parades for winning the cup, maybe Columbus and Salt Lake.
Who I’d say is doing the best are: Galaxy, Kansas City, Columbus, Dallas, Salt Lake
Somewhere in-between and getting better: New England, Colorado
Somewhere in-between but I think they are trying: DC, Houston, Chicago
Clearly Stagnant: San Jose, The Red Bull
That is by no means a scientific list. But it feels right, right? The one I’ll defend with my life is that FC Dallas seems to have done well in their part of the metroplex. They’ll never be the Cowboys, but their position doesn’t strike me as that dissimilar from where the Mavericks were in the mid 1990s. It used to be that, even at the peak of the Perea years in 2015 and 16, they couldn’t seem to get more than like two thirds of Toyota Stadium to fill up. Every game I watch of theirs in Frisco seems to be well-attended now, and I think their reputation is starting to shift too, with the success of their academy products both in and out of MLS. In the World Cup this fall, we’re going to see potentially six or seven former FC Dallas academy players for the US, and that makes them look good. FC Dallas is less and less the team that played at the high school stadium in Southlake and more and more “the team that develops the players for the US Men’s National Team.”
Everybody needs some work, there is no quick fix short of John Fisher selling the Earthquakes. I don’t have an answer short of “Win Consistently” for most of those teams that are already doing fairly well, and it takes a lot for that to happen, as outlined in the entire post leading up to this, and most of that’s going to fall on the ownerships of those teams. I do think that a bad reputation can change, as evidenced by Sporting KC’s shift from a punchline in Kansas City in the late 2000s to a relatively large part of the sports hierarchy here, still firmly beneath the Chiefs and Royals but not as far down as they once were, but the longer that you spend in that hole, the worse that negative inertia gets.
One thing that could probably have some effect is putting resources into academy systems, especially through developing local talent. If a club’s reputation in their community is one where they’re taking local kids and getting them to successful professional careers, that will help endear them to fans, especially if they can hold on to at least a few of them and have them play in front of their community.
If you’re a fan that wants what Seattle and Toronto have for your team, there are some things you can do personally. You can wear the shirts and jerseys out in public, talk about matches with your friends like you would any other team, talk about them on social media, try to attend away matches and get involved with your club’s supporter group. Maybe if you work at a sports bar you can make a point to put the games on TV or host watch parties. Maybe if you do YouTube videos or blogs or TikToks you could do YouTube videos or blogs or TikToks on your team, or on MLS in general. Outside of that, a lot of that is just unfortunately up to the competence and ambition of the front office, along with the slow march of time – Which is what the next section is about.
My Dad has a commemorative Kansas City Wiz cup that he took home from a game during their first season in 1996 somewhere in the basement. I was a baby at the time, I don’t know how he swung the opportunity to get out of the house and attend this soccer match, I doubt he even remembers. I’ve always found that interesting, though. He liked soccer, he played soccer as a kid and attended Kansas City Comets games in the 1980s, he watched the US national teams on TV. When I was about eleven, in 2006, we went to a Wizards game in Arrowhead with some of the kids from my community rec-league soccer team (I think we were named the Goblins), and that next season, he bought two season tickets, which we held for a while, up to and through the name change and both stadium moves.
There are two things about this – Firstly that I have an intense dedication to soccer in Kansas City because of this experience. I had a friend ask me last year why I cared so much about what he considered a niche sport and league (not as a ridiculing thing, he was curious because he was interested in a different relatively niche sport) and I pointed to that experience, I grew up alongside Sporting KC, and as I’ve grown up they’ve been a sort of point of grounding for me. No matter where I ended up going, California, Canada, wherever, I was always watching their games on TV and following their news, and I know that I still will be wherever I end up next.
The second is that my Dad also went to Royals games in the 1970s and 80s. It was a significant moment when we went to my first Royals game at Kauffman Stadium in around 1999 or 2000, it was a moment when he could pass on an interest in baseball and in the Royals specifically to me – interests he took up in his childhood, that I would later take on myself. The Royals’ first season was in 1969, when he was a toddler, so I’m probably on the tail end of the first group of second-generation childhood Royals fans. As a result of that being a part of my upbringing, the Royals are a team that I care about just as well.
He didn’t have the chance to do that with an outdoor soccer team from his youth (I suppose the Comets were still around in some form when I was growing up). Outside of Vancouver, this is the case all over MLS – the first kids to grow up with MLS teams would’ve been born between the mid 1980s to the early 1990s, and they’re only now getting to the age where their kids might accompany them. But as time continues to progress at a normal rate, more and more of those cross-generational connections will be made. There’s no cure for this but time and effort, and if MLS keeps building and keeps having ambitious teams that push the league forward, that history can and will build.
While I am optimistic about the future of MLS, I am also overwhelmed by its mundanity. It is going to happen. That’s not something we really have to question anymore. It used to be, absolutely, but MLS is just as much a part of the sports landscape in this country as any other American major league. Its presence in the landscape is smaller than the other leagues, but it’s there, and it’s going to continue to be there, and it’ll grow and shift just as well.
All in time.
It’s kind of hard to adopt that mindset. MLS has been in a constant state of flux for so much of its existence. It wasn’t even like ten years ago that a lot of fans could envision feasible situations in which the entire league would fold, and short of total societal collapse (Which I guess we can’t rule out, but I’d rather not go down that rabbit hole in my writing about the 2022 Concacaf Champion Seattle Sounders and you’re certainly not here to read about my speculations on it), Major League Soccer is here to stay. I am sixteen years out from my first MLS match in 2006. Sixteen years from now is 2038. MLS is going to exist in 2038. I don’t know what it’ll look like exactly, and there’s no point in trying to work out the specifics of MLS in 2038. But it’ll be there.
The great thing about sports is that everything gets recorded. As soon as the final whistle blows, a game becomes history. As long as they keep playing games, there’s gonna keep being history. I think about that every now and then, as we’re now ten years away from Eddie Johnson missing the final penalty kick in the 2012 Open Cup final, nine from Lovell Palmer doing the same in the 2013 MLS Cup Final, seven from Saad Abdul-Salaam hitting the double post, all moments I watched as they happened, how the moments happening in front of me will become that sort of lore remembered for years to come. Even just last year we had so much – Felipe Mora’s goal in the 94th minute of the final, the Union having to play a game missing more than half of their starting lineup for COVID tracing, Muyl and Zimmerman missing the frame entirely in their shootout in Philadelphia, RSL beating Seattle without taking a shot all game… And ten years from now, we’ll think “wow, I can’t believe that was ten years ago,” and there’s going to be ten years worth of history in-between.
What happened last Wednesday will one day be that as well, something that we acknowledge was a big step, a first time occurrence, and one part of history. Immortality, as Garth Lagerway put it.
In the meantime? Just keep working, just keep pushing for more, you know. Fight and win.
EPILOGUE: FIGHT AND WIN
There was a moment, I think after the second goal, on the FS1 broadcast, wherein Strong and Holden both went quiet for a solid ninety seconds and let us just listen to the 68,000 people packing Lumen Field. They did that one. You know the one. We all know the one.
That one. I don’t know if they do it after every goal, but I was struck by it in this instance. That video was from 2011. Eleven years ago. That guy, and all the fans with him, got ridiculed to shit by every fucking computer-bound loser with an opinion (like myself) for the crime of having too much fun in front of a video camera. And now the entire crowd was doing it while the other 27 of us sat at home and watched them do something nobody else has been able to.
It hit me at that moment. They had. They had fought and won. They’ve done so much god damn fighting and winning. A double in 2014, MLS Cups in 2016 and 19, playoffs every year, they’ve finished top two in the Western Conference in five straight seasons. Great teams come and go, and they do it loudly, and declare themselves foundation-shakers, from the Goonie Earthquakes to Parea’s Dallas to second-year Atlanta and LAFC, but the Sounders just keep fucking winning. They are the foundation. They are the league. It couldn’t have been anyone else.
I would have loved for it to be someone else, but it just couldn’t have been. It had to be Seattle.
I will still ridicule them about the Rickroll tifo and the one they accidentally displayed upside down. I will compile these three parts together into one single document and make it available on the Substack, which you can subscribe to if you want all my stuff delivered right to your e-mail inbox.