Eight years into their MLS existence, the Seattle Sounders have embraced their heritage like few other teams have before. The Sounders unapologetically trace their history back to 1974, the year the NASL team was founded, even wearing uniforms meant as an homage to that original team. As obvious as this may all seem now, though, it's worth remembering how close the Sounders came to using an entirely different name.
There are two significant paths that could have lead to there not being a Seattle Sounders in Major League Soccer. The first is simply if the club refused to allow a write-in vote when the team was in its expansion phase. Seattle Republic, Seattle Alliance and Seattle FC all could have been selected. More frightening is a Seattle MLS expansion that did not include Adrian Hanauer at all.
Both major paths are soulless options, bereft of history. They lack any connection our collective memories of the game’s first professional dip into our community, nor our second. One, is only more worse than the other. Both are alternate realities where soccer is a minor league sport in a major league town.
Seattle FC, Seattle Alliance, Seattle Republic
Each of these options is bad for reasons that aren’t related to the lack of Sounders. City FC is the inoffensive name that MLS 4.0 teams are grabbing at an alarming rate. It is boring, creates dumb soccer v football jokes and lets fans control the naming of the team in some cases. That final issue can be fun, but also hurts marketing.
Alliance and Republic both exist in American soccer now. Alliance is the formal name for the Sounders’ season-ticket holders and other members in the experiment that is “Democracy in Sports.” It is not a name with power or history. A Seattle Alliance SC/FC in MLS is simply boring.
Republic eventually made an appearance in American soccer, in a much better place. Sacramento, as capital of California, is familiar with the word. It reinforces sentiments already popular in the NorCal city. But here in Seattle, without getting Lucas Film tie-ins, it has no meaning. A team would have had to spend money not just selling soccer, but selling a theme about democracy and governance and the power of unity. It could have worked, but it would have required much more work than appealing to a history and heritage that already exist.
Alliance and Republic could have resulted in a great co-branding opportunity. It would have been fun if MLS pulled off a miracle (as Verizon tried with Droid) and partnered with Lucas Films. This city probably would have embraced a Seattle Alliance/Republic presented by Star Wars, at least for the merchandise, if not on gamedays.
All three choices have the same failures — they are the world’s game in Seattle, rather than Seattle’s team playing a game that generations or residents love. They also confine the fanbase to the city of Seattle itself rather than opening up to the entire region as Sounders does.
Reverse Forecast: 2009 attendance tops out around 25,000, a good number at the time. There is no burst of support and CenturyLink Field has a full lower bowl, fewer championship banners. I would never have been able to use the Heritage Cup as a bowl for Christmas candies.
MLS without Hanauer
This alternate timeline is more significantly different from the one in which we live. There is a chance that after failing to be the expansion side when Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake were chosen, current majority owner Hanauer ended his pursuit of MLS. The league would have still wanted to be here, and maybe even it would have involved Joe Roth or another out-of-towner being talked into participation.
In this timeline, two teams exist — a monied corporate entity with one of the three names listed above that fails to connect to our provincial natures and a suburban one with history and identity that lacks quality, assuming Hanauer had persisted with his USL outfit.
Seattle becomes a microcosm for American soccer. The soccer warz of New York where MLS v NASL currently are active expand. Maybe it strengthens the lower division, but it also harms soccer in Seattle. Instead of the market re-defining what American soccer is the area is just another Vancouver.
Reverse Forecast: 2009 attendance tops short of 20,000, but there is a vocal component of former players, coaches and fans who distance themselves from a Seattle FC without local ownership. The lower division Sounders limp along at Starfire where fans give a Detroit City FC vibe.
Fortunately we live in the brightest timeline. The decisions of 2007-08 in regards to the brand could not have gone better. Even the objectionable at the time Rave Green grew to become a bold choice that differentiates this team from its past and drug other teams into 21st century palette as it sold well.
Sounder, noun, a person(s) of, or related to, Puget Sound. More specifically it is a demonym for the people of a region defined by the body of water that is carved by glaciers, circled by volcanoes, adorned in evergreens and shrouded in clouds.
They are the Sounders, as they should be, as they have been, as they will be.