If there’s one thing the Seattle Sounders have a lot of during their 11 completed seasons, it’s really good teams that didn’t quite reach their full potential. That’s not because the Sounders’ organization is filled with underachievers as much as it’s the product of having a lot of really good teams throughout the years.
When our SB Nation colleagues proposed a series about the “Best Teams to Never Win a Championship” there were several versions of the Sounders that came to mind. That first team in 2009 fell just two points of the Supporters’ Shield, but failed to score a single goal in the playoffs. The 2011 team topped 60 points, led MLS in scoring by six goals and ... flopped in the playoffs. The 2014 squad won the Supporters’ Shield, added a U.S. Open Cup and had Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins at peak “drift compatibility” ... only to fall an away goal short of MLS Cup. The 2018 Sounders set the MLS record for best second-half record in league history, posted the second best defense and then got bounced by the Portland Timbers.
But it didn’t quite feel right choosing any of those teams, and not just because each of them won something at least. A few of them won a U.S. Open Cup, two got the Cascadia Cup and one even claimed the Supporters’ Shield.
The 2013 Sounders, though, won nothing. After leading the Supporters’ Shield race as late as mid-September, they only finished one point above the playoff line; they’re 0 goal-difference was the worst among playoff teams; and they even finished last in the Cascadia Cup standings.
I know what you’re thinking, “Oh, that just sounds like it was a bad team, not necessarily one that was underachieving.”
To that I offer this rebuttal: The 2013 Sounders were quite possibly the most talented in club history. This was a team with Martins and Dempsey AND Eddie Johnson in the attack; it had Steve Zakuani coming off the bench most of the time; it had Lamar Neagle chipping in with eight goals; it had Mauro Rosales serving in set pieces; it had Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans patrolling the midfield; it had Michael Gspurning in goal and Marcus Hahnemann backing him up; and it had rookie DeAndre Yedlin who was already good enough to beat out a Swedish international for a starting spot. This team was good enough to become the first MLS team to eliminate a Liga MX opponent in Concacaf Champions League, was a goal away from knocking off another one, and that was BEFORE Martins or Dempsey had even joined the team. Heck, this team even had tried and true veteran leadership like Shalrie Joseph and Djimi Traore.
Given all this, I think it’s a relatively easy call to suggest it was the most disappointing and I’m comfortable in dubbing them the “best Sounders team to never win a championship.”
The 2013 Sounders never really made it look easy, but they were often a ton of fun. Following a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake that left the Sounders leading the Supporters’ Shield race later in the season than they ever had before — with games in hand, no less — Schmid jokingly referred to his attacking formation as an “amoeba.” It was unclear how an attack of Johnson, Dempsey and Martins would effectively play, but during the 15 minutes they were on the field together in that game it promised to be fun. Even better, the Sounders had gone 14-5-2 in their past 19, seemingly erasing the memories of their franchise-worst 0-3-2 start.
It turned out, it only got worse from there and that trio would barely play together again. Between international call-ups and injuries, the trio were never on the field together until the Sounders were trailing 5-1 on aggregate in the second leg of their playoff series against the Timbers. For some of the same time, they also had Yedlin, Evans, Alonso and Rosales on the pitch together. Not that it mattered, of course, as that season ended in the most humbling manner.
As Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer told me recently, “Sometimes the teams with the most talented players aren’t the best teams.”
At the end of the year, the Sounders traded Johnson to D.C. United and effectively turned the team over to Clint and Oba. They went on to lead the Sounders to a Supporters’ Shield-U.S. Open Cup double the following year, coming just a tiebreaker away from playing for the treble.
Still, it’s tempting to wonder what might have been if that 2013 campaign had gone just a little different.