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Seattle Success … Good for MLS?

Posted on by Peter C

sounders inagural2 Seattle Success ... Good for MLS?

I was thinking about the Seattle phenomenon and a thought crossed my mind.

Would it be good or bad for MLS if Seattle went deep into the playoffs in its inaugural year?

What would it say about a league if a brand new team could have such great success in its first ever season? I can hear it now, “that league sucks, even a new team can win”. That goes against the grain of every sports fan. Sure, the Fire did it in ’98, but the league was only in it’s third year of existence.

In 2005, the first year for Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA, they finished 5th and 6th respectively in the Western Conference a full 25 and 27 points behind 4th place eventual Cup winner Los Angeles.

In the west in 2006 Chivas USA finished 3rd on 43 points while RSL finished 6th with 39 points.

2007 brought Toronto into the league and they finished with the lowest point total with 25. The finished bottom in goals and goals allowed. RSL continued to stuggle finishing with only 27 points while Chivas USA emerged as Western Conference champions.

San Jose reincarnated joined MLS in 2008 and finished last in the west, albeit on goal differential vs the Galaxy. Toronto stayed ‘on expansion pattern’ by finishing last in the east for the 2nd year running. RSL followed in Chivas’ footsteps with a 3rd place western finish, just 3 points behind 2nd place Chivas and finished the season one win away from playing for the MLS Cup.

And here we are in 2009, 5th year Chivas USA tops the league in points. Fellow 5th year RSL sits 3rd in the west. 3rd year Toronto leads the east and 2nd year San Jose are 5th in the eight team west.

So recent history shows that expansion clubs need about 3 years to compete regularly in MLS. Not an unusual sports phenomenon as anyone who lived through the expansion of the ‘big four’ American sports leagues can attest . Expansion clubs struggle. Remember the ’62 Mets? Or the new Cleveland Browns?

Then there’s Seattle, 2nd in the league in points and averaging over 29,000 fans in their first four home matches. This is a great story and great TV! But is it good for the league to have an upstart have such great success on the pitch?

The positive regard of MLS, especially after its showing in the CONCACAF Champions League, barely extends outside of the suburbs of MLS cities, excluding perhaps Dallas, where the radius seems noticeably smaller.

So we need a story. Something to light a fire. And what could be better than a brand new team, with a cover boy Swedish import, a young exciting goal scorer and an American legend keeper ‘coming home’ and allowing 0 goals in his first 4 matches. And doing it in front of nearly 30,000 fans. Like I said, this makes for great TV. Lots of highlights. Hell, if you can’t make an impression with quality, put on a show.