Back on that cold November day when Drew Carey made an appearance at the George & Dragon, unofficially announcing that Seattle would have an MLS team, there were many dozens who had dreams and hopes validated. Our town would rejoin top flight soccer. The goals were ambitious. Over the next couple of days words like "global brand" and "winning tradition" would be uttered. Those words appear quite often at expansion team announcements; most of the time those words are not met by clubs new to this league.
In Seattle the challenge of creating a global brand of soccer in an obscure league would seem daunting at first. Yet tickets sales would explode. From day one the signings would be significant and would change the way locals and the world looked at the league. Then, on Saturday, a game-changing play didn't just set a new bar to be passed, but also shifted thought patterns about what an MLS team can do.
2009 - The team passed season ticket goals quickly. The marquee signings were former American great Kasey Keller and Freddie Ljungberg. The American great and the Arsenal great both would make substantial MLS money at their positions. One was a local looking to retire, the other a Swede looking to recover his brand cache. The club finished the season earning a trophy in year one, bypassed what were thought to be attendance plateaus twice and appeared in the Playoffs. Individuals would win a Best XI, two Player of the Month awards and four All Stars. That's just a sampling. The club took the "expansion bar" and raised it to a point that no other team has come, and maybe will come, close to reaching since.
2010 - One Freddie shipped out. The other was converted to a Designated Player in the dawn of the 3 DP era. It felt a bit like neutral. Attendance was again charging up the board and brand recognition expanded. Then Seattle signed a Swiss World Cup player and FC Twente legend Blaise Nkufo. It was a pre-retirement situation. At the time Seattle paid the modest fee to have 3 DPs. They added their actual third DP after the World Cup, from the World Cup. Young, up-and-coming Uruguay forward/mid would take his talents to CenturyLink. Three DPs - one from within the team and one of the hottest stars in MLS, two others from the World Cup. Another Open Cup championship, another attendance record. More individual awards.
2011 - Attendance statistics continue to climb. Seattle finishes second on the overall table, wins a third straight US Open Cup, earns the second ever competitive victory by an MLS side in Mexico and advances to the knockouts of the CONCACAF Champions League. On the player front Nkufo is bought-out and retires. A Trialist appears in MVP conversations. More awards, more recognition, but it lacked the splash moves of other seasons. The bar went up, but not much.
2012 - It's now passe to talk about attendance records. Around league circles the assumption is that Seattle does the attendance thing quite well. A friendly is outsold by a local rivalry match as the Timbers are a larger draw then Chelsea by about 13,000 people. Adrian Hanauer would swap two fan favorites for a washed-out-of-Europe, former US star. He'd earn awards, goals and rejoin the United States National Team after a long absence. Another DP would ship off to Chicago so that Sounders FC could tap into Germany and sign one of the better creators in the Bundesliga. The team failed to win the Open Cup, but did earn it's first ever advancement in the MLS Cup Playoffs while also being perfect in CCL Group Stage.
2013 - This looked to be a bar sideways kind of year. Montero was loaned out. Tiffert was bought out. A Swedish international left and yet the Sounders advanced past a Mexican team in Champions League knockouts. The only returning DP (Mauro Rosales) aged before our eyes. Seattle traded for an even older DP in Shalrie Joseph just a month after saying he was out of shape.
Sideways bar got a minor boost when Adrian Hanauer made a long play for Obafemi Martins. Grabbing a fringe Nigerian National Teamer away from a La Liga side that wanted to keep him while they were playing in Europa league is a bold move. A large sum of money added Seattle's answer to LA's Keane. Martins is the eighth Designated Player to wear Rave Green. A team taking in large revenue plays no money-making friendly but flexes its financial muscle anyway. That alone would raise the bar as the club continues to tinker, find new ways to add talent and to push the salary cap limitations of MLS.
This is the Fosbury Flop, the invention of jet engines, the advent of streaming music. The money involved is huge, but Sounders FC can handle it. There are empty seats that want you to stand in front of them. TV contracts and sponsorship deals continue to expand. At only 30, Dempsey isn't retiring next year. This is his last big payday, but he has an outside shot at two World Cups while an MLS and Sounders player. Expectations must include MLS Cups and other trophies. Seattle made history every other year in the league. They just did it again.