The Seattle Sounders were founded in 1974 in the state of Washington and they play in the MLS. The club has been operating since the 70’s playing in the North American Soccer League until the 1984 season when the league was finally canceled. The club began playing in the MLS as of the 2009 season as an expansion club. After many iterations of the league, it was finally allowed to join the MLS with majority stakeholder Adrian Hanauer and Paul Allen to financially support the club.
A brief history of the league shows us how much the US struggled to make soccer popular here in the states. The league went through many stages since its inception in the mid-1970s including a period where the league didn’t even exist. Seattle was granted rights to a franchise in the struggling North American Soccer League. And backed by investor Walt Daggatt the city soon began looking for players to build a team. With a budget of $500,000, they hired John Best as coach and other notable players like Everton star Jimmy Gabriel and Pepe Fernandez. On January 22, 1974, the team was officially given the name Seattle Sounders after an open contest was held in order to involve fans in the process.
The Sounders played their first game at the Memorial Stadium with a capacity of 13,000 people against the Denver Dynamos. The stadium was picked because soccer games in the US only averaged about 3000-5000 people. The stadium capacity was at 12,000 for this game and it gave the investors and supporters hope that soccer could work in Seattle. At that time the media paid little to no attention to soccer so it was hard for teams to get any exposure but filling the stadiums was one way to make noise and get their attention.
Seattle was off to a great start in their inaugural season in the NASL with a record of 10-7-3 they narrowly missed the playoffs but the fans were hooked. They finished 3rd in the Western Conference that year. The team started gaining some traction in the media as well by selling out games which had never been done before in the US.
The Sounders continued to play in NASL and had a great season in 1975 bringing in ex Tottenham player Mike England. Other teams also began to strengthen their squads including the New York Cosmos who picked up a guy you may know by the name of Pele, yes that Pele! Seattle also expanded the stadium to seat more than 17,000 people and the stadium was always full no matter how much bigger they made it. Sounders had a record of 15-7 and were one of the best teams in the league. They lost the playoff game to the Portland Timbers and many supporters of both clubs remember this game because it started the rivalry between the clubs and is now the most heated rivalry in the country.
The following year majority stakeholder Walt Daggat was able to gather enough funds to buy a football franchise for the city. That team would be the Seattle Seahawks and both teams would now play all their games at the Kingdome. The Sounders first game at the Kingdome drew 56,000 people with the help of Pele of course, who scored two goals in that game. With the inclusion of some key players, the Sounders managed to get to the Divisional playoffs of the NASL but lost the game to the Minnesota Kicks.
The 1977 season brought some new faces to the club including a new coach who was now Jimmy Gabriel. After a slow start to the season, the Sounders managed a 14-12 record with huge crowds still coming out to support the club. It also helped to have the league’s Rookie of the Year Jimmy McAllister. The Sounders made it to the conference final and upset the favorites L.A. Aztecs to go through to the final and play the Cosmos in Portland for the Soccer Bowl 77’. The Cosmos won in what was Pele’s final game as a professional soccer player.
The NASL went through its golden era during this period in which teams invested millions of dollars to bring foreign talent and well-known players. The biggest example was the Cosmos with Pele but many other great players came to the league to put US soccer on the map. The league peaked in attendance numbers by 1980 and by the following year and with big-name players only being able to play a couple of years before retiring the attendance numbers were beginning to decline. And finally, the NASL stopped operations after 1986 when only two teams were still interested in playing. This was the year of the world cup and after Mexico was chosen to host, the teams and leagues lost all confidence that the league would make a comeback.
After the 86 World Cup the US was stuck between a rock and a hard place as the tournament helped Mexico gain some traction in their domestic competitions. Then came the golden era for Liga MX and the rest is history.
In 1994 the US was chosen as the host for the World Cup and this was the opportunity that professional soccer teams in the US were waiting for. But for the Sounders, it wasn’t easy to get the franchise. The MLS wanted 10,000 signatures for season tickets and a soccer-specific stadium for the teams. By June 3rd, 1994 when the deadline to apply for a franchise came they only had 1,500 signatures. Club historians blame this on one factor, during this time Seattle was also gathering signatures for season tickets for their APSL expansion club so the competition for signatures is to blame.
The MLS season started with no club in Seattle but by November of that year, the league decided that the season would be postponed. The season didn’t start back up until 1996 and Seattle had a huge problem, they didn’t have an “adequate grass facility’. This same year Paul Allen was looking to build the Seahawks a new stadium and talks between the two teams began in order to make a plan that would benefit all parties. But another problem arose as the new stadium was being worked out, the teams were now going away from league operated teams and were now focusing on investor operated teams. So the Sounders knew that eventually, they would need to find a high profile majority stake owner.
In 2003 Seattle once again tried to get approved by the MLS but came up short and it was awarded to Salt Lake City. Hanauer had one million dollars to pay the expansion fee but he made an announcement that it wasn’t enough and that he would need help from other investors to cover the fee which was now more than ten million dollars.
In 2007 Hanauer teamed up with Hollywood producer Joe Roth to pay the thirty-million dollar franchise fee to the MLS and Paul Allen also joined the ownership group. On November 13, 2007, it was announced that Seattle had been awarded as an expansion club and a couple of months later they were officially given the name Seattle Sounders FC. They began playing in the 09 season selling all season tickets for its first season in the MLS.
Seattle chose Sigi Schmid as the head coach because of his history with the league and his ability to find young talent. The sounders hit the ground running just like when they joined the NASL and became the first expansion club to win their first three games of the season. With Freddy Montero leading the charge Seattle was off to a great start and looked like they had been playing in the league for years. They managed to get a crucial win at home that would send them through to the final of the US Open Cup which was the priority for Schmid. The Sounders would go on and win the US Open Cup and become the second team to win it in their inaugural MLS season. And this meant that they would automatically qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League.
For the 2010 season, Seattle was once again picked to host the opening game of the regular season. The match set an MLS attendance record and everything was set for the club to have another successful season. But the Sounders only managed 6th place in the Western Conference and lost to the LA Galaxy in the playoffs. However, they did win the MLS Open Cup for the second year in a row and prioritized the trophy over the CONCACAF Champions League in which they lost to Saprissa.
For three consecutive years, the Sounders won the Open Cup and didn’t go trophyless until the 2012 season. In this season the team placed 3rd in the Western Conference but due to lack of goals they didn’t have the goal contributions they needed to carry them through the playoffs. At the end of the season, the club knew they needed a big signing in order to take the team to the next level.
Clint Dempsey was signed from Tottenham for nine million dollars with an annual salary of thirty-two million over four years, making him the most expensive signing. With the help of Dempsey, the Sounders packed the stadium every game and broke attendance records for sports, not just soccer in the US. Although he went trophyless in his first season for the Sounders Dempsey was seen as the star player and the team was built around him. In the 2014 season, the Sounders finished first in the Western Conference and won the Supporters Shield and their fourth MLS Open Cup and Dempsey got fifteen goals with ten assists for the regular season. But the 2015 season disappointed not just fans but players and coaches as well. They only managed to win the Cascadia Cup this season and frustrations grew as the demand for a championship grew.
The fans expected a lot from the team for the 2016 season but the team took a turn for the worse and managed one its worst run of games in club history. Because of this bad form, Sigi left his position. He was replaced by his assistant Brian Schmetzer but only as a temporary solution. Seattle managed an amazing run of form after the appointment of Schmetzer with eight wins, two losses, and four ties and was made permanent coach. The team was also playing without their best player Clint Dempsey who was asked to stop playing due to a heart condition. But all this added to the Cinderella story as Seattle managed to make it to the final of the MLS Cup. They played Toronto FC and went all the way to a penalty shootout and beat them and of course leading to one of the most dramatic seasons in MLS history.
For the 2017 season, Seattle did not get off to a great start, as they tried to make a late push for the playoffs they were rewarded with a spot in the final of the Open Cup. They played against Toronto but lost two to zero and it gave Toronto its third trophy and the domestic treble. In the 2018 season expectations were high after two great seasons from home-grown player Jordan Morris but that all fell through when he tore his ACL at the beginning of the season. The club continued to win games and broke the MLS record for most consecutive wins in a season. Minority stakeholder Paul Allen passed away during the season due to complications from cancer. This gave Seattle the motivation to win a trophy and went on to play in the conference finals against the Portland Timbers. The match went all the way to penalties but the Timbers got the win in what is known as one of the most exciting conference finals in MLS history
The Sounders were not successful in defending their title but two years later in 2019, they got the chance to once again prove to the MLS that they are the best team in the league. In the lead up to this final both of the finalists were the underdogs as LAFC were the favorites to win it all after an amazing first season by the Mexican striker Carlos Vela. Seattle played Dallas, Salt Lake, and LAFC to get into the final to play Toronto FC for the third time in four years in front of their home fans. Seattle won the game 3-1 in front of a record home crowd of 69,000 fans.
For the 2020 season, the Sounders chose to trade their first-round pick of the MLS SuperDraft to Chicago Fire for a second-round pick and goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland. As it stands Seattle is in 6th place but MLS has only played two games since the start of the season. Currently, the MLS is suspended until May 10th due to COVID-19.