This has been a year quite unlike any other in the Seattle Sounders’ 11 MLS seasons. Sure, we can say that almost every year, but I suspect this is one of the ones we’ll be talking about and remembering a decade from now. The season was bookmarked by a record start and winning MLS Cup at home, but also included the departures of two bonafide club legends; a midseason slump; and a tense fight among supporters and team officials.
Just about every month contained an event that alone would have qualified as a big deal. A quick look back through the months:
A year later it’s funny to talk about, but when Zulily was announced as the new shirt sponsor people kinda freaked out. We were all pretty focused on whether or not Zulily was a “feminine” brand and if it even mattered. For all the debate, though, it was hard to argue with the numbers after the Sounders revealed that this was a far more lucrative deal than the one they had with XBox.
The Sounders unveiled what will likely go down as one of their most popular jerseys, when they showed off the black “Nightfall” kits with pink accents.
They also started playing some preseason matches, the most notable of which may have been getting dismantled at the hands of Atlanta United. By the end of preseason, though, we were getting a pretty good idea of how the team would look and were reasonably encouraged by Jordan Morris’ play in the “asymmetrical 4-2-3-1.”
Perhaps most satisfyingly, Sounder at Heart readers and Nos Audietis listeners helped raise $6,500 for the Seattle Children’s Autism Center at YachtCon: Nights. We also saw the beginnings of Will Bruin’s podcast.
The season opened with a bang, as the Sounders romped over FC Cincinnati, the Colorado Rapids and Chicago Fire and finished the month 3-0-1. Jordan Morris staked his early claim on Comeback Player of the Year with two goals in the opener and then adding a goal and an assist against the Fire.
In between, Brian Schmetzer found time to do ratings of all the “players” who competed in the media game.
The month began with Sounder at Heart founder Dave Clark stepping away for a job with the Defiance.
The Sounders continued their record start, eventually getting to 5-0-1 with the final win coming in impressive fashion against Toronto FC. That 3-2 win would give us a hint of what might happen if they were to meet again...
The first bits of in-season adversity started soon thereafter. First there was a 4-1 loss at the hands of LAFC. That kicked off a four-game winless run which included the Sounders falling behind the San Jose Earthquakes 2-0 at home, only to salvage a tie. They closed out the month with a hard-fought 1-1 tie at home against LAFC that featured them playing down a man for about 75 minutes after Cristian Roldan was shown a red card that was ultimately rescinded.
Things seemed to be starting to turn back around at the start of May. The Sounders got another well-earned point at Minnesota United, made a pair of signings just before the close of the transfer window and then won back-to-back games against the Houston Dynamo and Orlando City. Another hard-fought road point against the Philadelphia Union that was heavily reliant on bench players left them with a record of 7-1-5, seemingly sitting pretty with the second-most points in the league.
A few days later, the Sounders were dealt a significant blow when it was revealed that Chad Marshall would be forced to retire.
A disheartening 3-2 loss to a Sporting KC team that was in their own tailspin closed out the month.
From the moment the schedule was released, we suspected June would be tough due to international absences. Missing many of their starters, the Sounders closed out their pre-Gold Cup break schedule with a pair of league losses and then fell 2-1 to the Portland Timbers in a U.S. Open Cup match played at Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium.
As if that weren’t bad enough, the Sounders lost Will Bruin to a season-ending injury during a training incident.
The Sounders managed to close out the month on a positive note when Kelvin Leerdam bagged a 95th minute winner against the Vancouver Whitecaps to halt the losing streak. That game also featured the starting debut of Danny Leyva, who scored an amazing goal that was incorrectly disallowed.
Any good feelings about the win over the Whitecaps were quickly swept away with a 3-0 loss to New York City FC that left the Sounders with their fifth loss in six matches across all competitions.
Nicolas Lodeiro returned from international duty just in time to help the Sounders pull out a 2-1 win with a last-second goal against the Columbus Crew. The Sounders followed that up with what has to be considered the best win of the season, knocking off defending MLS Cup champs Atlanta United. That match featured an absolutely amazing goal from Raul Ruidiaz.
Once again, the good feelings were short lived as the Sounders followed up their best win with another gut-punch loss to the Timbers at home, leaving us asking serious questions about the makeup of the roster. Somehow, the Sounders managed to follow that up with a road win over the Dynamo in which they were outplayed but showed some serious resolve.
Meanwhile, Rapinoe won basically ever medal she could at the World Cup.
It had been mostly overlooked at the time, but some bigger problems starting brewing during the Timbers loss. Both Timbers Army and ECS had flown Iron Front flags in their sections and were issued formal warnings that continuing to do so would be met with significant punishments. The letter Sounders ownership sent to ECS contained some particularly problematic language, for which they quickly apologized. The next home game featured an ECS protest and a counter-protest by right-wing agitators seemingly hoping to spark a physical confrontation. They managed to find one.
As if that wasn’t enough bad press, Roman Torres was suspended for PED use in the middle of all this and would be forced to sit out 10 games.
Predictably, bad results started to pile up. Over a stretch of four games that included two at home, the Sounders went 0-2-2 and allowed 11 goals, with a game at Portland on the horizon.
During that stretch, the Sounders announced the most dramatic change to their ownership structure to date as Joe Roth sold off his shares to a group that included Russell Wilson, Ciara and Macklemore.
But just as the season seemed to be spiraling out of control, the Sounders recovered. It came in a game in which supporters from both teams sat silent for the first 33 minutes. Given a heads up before the game, Stefan Frei came out strongly in support of fans. The Sounders won that match 2-1, which not only clinched the Cascadia Cup but proved to be a turning point in the season.
The Sounders followed up the win over the Timbers with an ugly, but still important win over the LA Galaxy in which they blew leads of 2-0 and 3-2, only to emerge with a 4-3 victory.
Due to having their game against the Colorado Rapids canceled due to a snowstorm in April, the Sounders were forced to play on an international date. Extremely short-handed, they lost that game. They followed it up with another frustrating, but ultimately important, win over the New York Red Bulls. Again, they blew a 2-0 lead, but again they came back to win, this time 4-2.
While the Sounders seemed to be figuring out ways to set the season right on the field, off the field things weren’t as settled. After halftime of the Red Bulls win, ECS walked out en masse protesting the removal of a fan waving the Iron Front flag.
Some good off-field news soon followed. Just two days later, MLS formally lifted the ban on the Iron Front flag following a Las Vegas meeting with supporters.
The Sounders closed out the month with a 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes in which Jordan Morris scored another late game-winner. That gave the Sounders the ability to finish as high as second in the Western Conference if they could win their season finale despite some very rough patches in the season.
The Sounders got the win they needed to secure the No. 2 seed and keep alive their chances of hosting MLS Cup, beating Minnesota United on the back of Torres’ first goal in rave green.
That set up a first-round meeting with FC Dallas. The Sounders seemingly had the match well in control when they jumped out to a 2-0 lead. But they surrendered a late first half goal and then gave up the equalizer early in the second half. Morris found the go-ahead goal in the 79th minute only for Dallas to equalize again a few minutes later. That set the stage for Morris’ overtime winner, completing his hat trick. It was the fourth time in eight games in which the Sounders scored the winner in the 83rd minute or later, and the fifth time since June 29 that they scored the winning goal after the 89th minute.
The Sounders followed up with a 2-0 win over RSL that was considerably more thorough than some of the stats suggested, setting the stage for a Western Conference final against LAFC.
Despite being slated as one of the biggest underdogs in MLS history, the Sounders outplayed LAFC virtually from beginning to end. In the postgame, Schmetzer dropped a couple notable quotes and Nouhou volleyed a beer can. The news got even better a day later when Toronto FC upset Atlanta United, meaning the Sounders would play MLS Cup at home for the first time ever.
As soon as MLS Cup tickets were made available to season-ticket holders, they started selling quickly. By time time they were made available to the general public on Nov. 1, the game was virtually sold out, and was officially sold out within minutes.
Over the next 10 days or so, the Sounders were able to open up enough seats to break the CenturyLink Field attendance record for a sporting event. Before the game tens of thousands of fans packed into Occidental Park to watch Macklemore play and to participate in what has to be the biggest March to the Match ever. Inside the stadium, fans participated in the first stadium-wide tifo in Sounders history.
The game itself didn’t disappoint. After a tense first half ramped up the emotions, the Sounders took the lead in the 50th minute on Kelvin Leerdam’s twice-deflected goal. Victor Rodriguez added the clincher and Ruidiaz got an insurance goal. It was a satisfying end to a deeply weird season.
The final month of the year has been unfortunately dominated by news of various departures. Torres joined Inter Miami, Victor Rodriguez has said he’s going back to Spain and the Sounders’ streaming deal with YouTube TV unceremoniously ended. As we tick into the new year, there’s precious little news about how the Sounders will fill any of those holes.
The one thing we do have some closure on is Reign FC’s near-term future. They’ve been sold to OL Groupe, the biggest name in world of women’s soccer and have given every indication they are staying in Tacoma.
It was quite the ride. But don’t get too comfortable — training camp opens in about two weeks.