Do fan expectations hurt the Sounders?

We cheer because we care. - Otto Greule Jr

For their 5-year MLS existence, Seattle has been on the of the best teams. As fans, we've grown accustomed to being one of the best teams. Has the expectations this success built hurt the franchise?

As a writer, it's never a good thing to start off a piece with a disclaimer, as it immediately sets the reader out to look for mistakes or flaws. But I wanted to admit that it's still early today and I've already consumed a few cans of Coca-Cola and have almost eaten an entire box of Rice Krispies Treats. A box of 16. There's like four left in there. Sometimes I really lack will power.

But this article isn't about my glorious winter diet. This article is about you. And the Sounders. See, I've had this thought in my head for a while, this idea that maybe the reason why the Sounders had a disappointing season is because of me. And you. Mostly you. It's hard to articulate exactly what's making me feel this way, and it's more of a supposition than straight out accusation; it goes deeper than flatly stating, "Seattle Sounders had a bad season because of their fans." That's hyperbolic and a blanket statement, which rings accusatory and hollow. But is it true?

I was born in the Seattle area. I went away to college in the Midwest, and save for a tornado and a few thunderstorms, nothing much happened there, but I came back to the Pacific Northwest as soon as college was over. I've been rooting for the Mariners since before the magical '95 season. I've been rooting for the Seahawks since before they drafted Rick Mirer. I even rooted for the Sonics when the wore those oh my goodness shorts so short. All this background is to explain that I've been a Seattle sports fan for my whole life and have endured all the madness and masochism that involves.

The Mariners had a great run in the late 90s and early Aughts. The Seahawks, before the Carroll era we had 2005 and XL and I hate you, Pittsburgh. The Sonics? Well, they play in Oklahoma now, where dreams go to die. What do those teams have in common? Zero championships in my lifetime. Forbes has listed Seattle as the "Most Miserable Sports City" of which to be a fan for like years running. Dubious distinction. And I'm right in the thick of it.

Then the Sounders came into the MLS. Now, admittedly, I didn't even know the franchise existed until the MLS Expansion announcement. Does that make me a bad fan? Probably not. But they hit the ground running. And they did it immediately following the Schultz-Bennett saga.

I've categorized my fandom of my Seattle teams in a unique way. I have only room for one team in the Overzealously-Passionate category: Sounders. One team in the I-Genuinely-Care-And-Will-Root-And-Follow category: Seahawks. One team in the I-Care-But-You're-On-Thin-Ice category: Mariners. It used to be Mariners were #1 and the Sonics were #3, but now the Sounders are firmly entrenched in the #1.

Why? Why do I care more about this team for which I've been rooting only a matter of years, whereas with the Mariners and Seahawks, I've grown up with them, ridden the ebbs and flows of their successes and failures. Well, it's because they're good. They're a good team. I've never experienced this team that can flirt with championships each and every year. Sure, it's different in the MLS because the Sounders compete for the MLS Cup, the Supporter's Shield, the US Open Cup, the CONCACAF Championship, and I want them all. MLB has the World Series and NFL has the Superbowl. Sure, the Seahawks are an amazing team and deserve all the accolades that being the best entails, and I'm right there with them. When the Seahawks win the Superb Owl this year, I'll probably put this smug grin on my face and nod slowly.

With the Sounders though, every year we expect success, because past success suggests future success. In 2012 the Sounders came the closest in their history to the MLS Cup. The owners stated the goal was to win an MLS Cup. We saw departures of some of our favorite players. No more Fredy, Sparkles, or the Death-Glare. But we replaced them with proven international players. At what cost? And why did the owners state a goal this specific? Was it because, for the first time in franchise history, the Sounders didn't win a major trophy in 2012? Did the owners want to placate a vocal, passionate fan base? I don't know.

Does my desperation for a championship in Seattle, as a fan, cause me to have unrealistic expectations for the Sounders? And does that desperation cloud my judgement of the what is or isn't a success?

Is the past successes of the Sounders a guarantee for future success? Should I, as a fan, hold it against them when they fail? What constitutes failure? These are questions I ask myself, because I feel it's important to put it in perspective. Sure, I want the Sounders to win every game and I want to go home happy as the ultimate victors and cup holders. But for the fifth year in a row, another team will be hoisting the trophy.

I recognize this stream of consciousness is less than conducive to a lovely article, but I'm frustrated about this season. I'm frustrated because I expected the team to be playing on Saturday, in Seattle, and that I'd be there rooting them on and watching the Sounders hoist the trophy at the end. But they're not. When Seattle added Obafemi Martins, we expected to have the best attack in the league. When Seattle added Clint Dempsey, we expected to be the best team in the league. We flirted with it and ultimately came up woefully short, and sputtered in the playoffs again. There are excuses and reasons, but that doesn't leave us, as fans, with much. Except hope.

Hope for 2014. As a fan of Seattle sports, hope is a dangerous thing. We've had it before. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me thirteen or fourteen more times, shame on me? So I'm content to hope, to take it one game at a time, knowing that one day the Sounders will be the last team standing. And when that day comes, I'll look back to the playoff losses to Portland, Los Angeles, RSL, and Houston and it'll all be worth it. And then Cleveland can take its rightful place atop a Forbes list that isn't "Worst City in America."

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