The word "treble" does not get mentioned very often in U.S. soccer circles. It's a term that gets thrown around a bit in European soccer, especially with Porto (2010-11) and Inter Milan (2009-10) accomplishing the feat in recent seasons, but it's something no MLS team has ever accomplished and is therefore relegated to the fringes.
After winning their third straight U.S. Open Cup, already qualifiying for the CONCACAF Champions League and likely heading for no worse than a No. 2 seed in the MLS Cup playoffs, becoming the reigning champion of three tournaments is at least somewhat within their reach.
Of course, Adrian Hanauer, the general manager and part owner of the Sounders who constructed this team, does not take quite so much of a big-picture approach to it all.
"I don’t think about things in groups," Hanauer said. "I don’t think about winning the treble. I think about winning every tournament we’re playing in. If it so happens we win all three at the same time, that's obviously great.
"But it’s more of a thing where we take it game to game, let’s collect points, now we qualify, now let’s improve seeding, go round by round. It’s not the way I’m wired to think about it in almost marketing terms or grandiose bragging rights. if you’re in my position or Sigi's postion, those kind of notions can detract from what will get you there. You start getting ahead of yourself and start thinking too highly of yourself."
While it probably makes sense that Hanauer doesn't want to think in those kinds of terms, nothing should stop us from doing it for him. Such an accomplishment would be the kind of thing that could really grab the American sporting audience's attention, and there's no reason we shouldn't speculate on what it could really mean.
Clearly, winning the Open Cup is the least significant of the trophies that could potentially make up a treble. The other three are surely worthy of some debate, but many would probably agree that the CCL and Supporters' Shield probably fall in line somewhere behind the MLS Cup, which flawed or not, is the recognized champion of the highest division of soccer in the United States and Canada.
Taking Hanauer's advice, let's go step-by-step to figure out just how the Sounders could go about accomplishing this feat.
The next step for the Sounders is the one with the longest odds. To win the Shield, they'll have to win all three of their final MLS regular-season games and root for the Galaxy to do no more than a claim a point in their final two.
The Galaxy's next game is a week from Saturday in the so-called Super Clasico against Chivas USA, who is assured of having nothing more than pride to play for at that point in the season. A best-case scenario for the Sounders would probably be a tie in that game.
The Galaxy then close their season with a road game against the Houston Dynamo, who could very well be playing for their playoff lives at that point. The good news for the Sounders is that the Dynamo are a considerably better team at Robertson Stadium than they are on the road, as they possess the league's third best points per match at home.
Even if the Galaxy are only able to get a point out of those two matches, the Sounders would still have to be perfect in their remaining three. Saturday, they play the Philadelphia Union at home. The Union still have a lot to play for as they could finish anywhere from atop the Eastern Conference to out of the playoffs. The Sounders will also be nursing some level of Cup hangover.
A win there would leave the Sounders with must-win games at home against the San Jose Earthquakes and on the road against Chivas USA. Both of those are games the Sounders could should probably win, but there will be extenuating factors that will have to do with the other two trophies for which they are playing.
In between the Sounders' final two regular-season games is their final CCL group stage match against Monterrey. Although the Sounders have already qualified for the quarterfinals, they need at least a point in this game in order to win the group. A win would potentially eliminate Monterrey entirely, knocking one more dangerous team out of the tournament.
Winning the group should be of relatively high importance to the Sounders, as it would likely mean a considerably easier path to the final. Last year, RSL's winning of the group allowed them to play the Columbus Crew in the quarterfinals and to be placed in a side of the bracket without a Mexican team.
Especially in that final game against Chivas USA, the Sounders will also have to be mindful of the playoffs. As one of the top three teams in the West, they will not have to worry about a midweek game, but they also won't want to risk any injuries unnecessarily. Facing a similar situation in last year's finale, the Sounders lost 3-1 to the Dynamo.
The MLS Cup playoffs are probably the biggest crapshoot of the bunch and they are also where the Sounders have most struggled in their first two years. They're most likely to meet Real Salt Lake in the conference semifinals and then the Galaxy would be their likely conference finals opponent. Both teams post major tests and the Sounders have gone 1-2-1 against those teams in MLS play this year.
The final piece of the puzzle would come next season MLS season. Unlike years past when the CCL quarterfinals took place a week or two before the MLS season started, this year the quarterfinals will start the same week. The Sounders are lobbying to not have to play a MLS game that week, but MLS's ability to grant that wish will likely be dependent on how many of the league's teams advance that far. In other words, as long as an odd number of MLS teams make the quarterfinals, the schedule should allow for first-week byes due to there being 19 teams in the league.
The Sounders road through CCL is far from determined. As many as four Mexican Primera teams could qualify for the quarterfinals, as they did a year ago, or as few as two. As many as three other MLS teams could advance or as few as none others than the Sounders. Of the non-MLS or FMF teams, only Alajuelense seems to pose any real challenge to the Sounders.
But all of this is much farther ahead than Hanauer and Co. are willing to go. The Sounders GM seems intent on living in the moment and taking each challenge as it comes.
"By all means, there are times where i hope to get the coaches together and have a nice dinner, share a bottle of nice wine and we can reflect on it a little bit and celebrate," Hanauer said. "But it will be mixed with planning for next season and preseason and the quarterfinals and how to balance our roster.
"It makes going about your daily life and doing the daily tasks that much more enjoyable. It gives you confidence that we do know what we’re doing and apparently are somewhat competent in building teams. It's the same in any job, really."