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What we learned from Sports Illustrated’s ‘MLS Ambition Rankings’

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Sounders slot in at No. 6, but more interesting is details about their spending.

Starfire in 2012 - today the clouds will be lower, the tempatures colder
Starfire in 2012 - today the clouds will be lower, the tempatures colder
Dave Clark

It would appear that — at least in the eyes of outside observers like Grant Wahl — that the Seattle Sounders’ place among the MLS elite in terms of “ambition” is waning a bit. While the Sounders were among the top three in Wahl’s “MLS ambition rankings” from 2012-2017, they’ve fallen outside of that the past two years. This year, they come in at No. 6, one spot below where they were a year ago.

While there’s some room to quibble — the Top 5 especially seems to simply be a matter of how much money the teams are willing to spend regardless of what kind of gain they get from it — the Sounders don’t seem to be pushing the envelope, at least not yet.

The Sounders have set a high bar over the years, particularly in their attendance, but the arrivals of Atlanta and LAFC—and the slight decline in crowd sizes in Seattle—have put this club in the second tier ambition-wise.

But if you dig into the answers the Sounders supplied to Wahl’s questionnaire — notably before the start of the season — there’s at least some reason to think that they are preparing to make some significant moves.

Here are some of the key takeaways we can take from that section:

  • Infrastructure investment: In addition to the 5,000-seat soccer specific stadium they’re still working toward in Tacoma, the Sounders say they expect “to announce plans regarding the next phase of its training ground infrastructure. Currently, plans are being developed for training facility expansion to accommodate the first team, USL side and all academy and developmental teams.”
  • Using TAM on Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan: In explaining that the Sounders have maxed out their TAM spending since the mechanism was created, they list Roldan and Morris as TAM signings. That had been largely assumed, but never confirmed until now.
  • Big spending on development: The Sounders say they’ve spent more than $10 million on the academy and USL team over the past three years.
  • International scouting: The Sounders employ four scouts — in addition to Chris Henderson — and spend more than $500,000 a year on scouting international players.
  • Top TV ratings: The Sounders are one of the few teams who are successfully selling their local broadcast rights and have the best local ratings among MLS teams.

Obviously the big item there is the bit about Starfire, vague as it may be. But if the Sounders make an actual announcement about a major investment there, break ground on the stadium in Tacoma and sign another DP this summer, it would be hard to continue to argue that they’re still “second tier.”