The Sounders FC has maintained a goal of progress since first taking the field in MLS in 2009.
That progress is set to take a more dramatic turn upward in the near future as the club enters its fifth season.
Owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer likens the club to a start-up business, finding its way in the landscape of Major League Soccer, US Soccer, the CONCACAF region and the Seattle sports market. Looking back after four years in the league, Hanauer said the club’s success allows them to adjust their plan for the 2013 season and beyond and elevate their franchise goals.
“We’re moving towards becoming a more mature and stable franchise and business. It allows us to start to think a little more long-term because frankly when you’re a startup business, your focus is on establishing the business and surviving,” Hanauer said. “That’s less of a concern at this point.”
Hanauer and majority owner Joe Roth have both hinted that part of that change may mean greater spending on Designated Players in the future. However, signing significant player contracts isn’t the only avenue toward change the Sounders could explore.
“As our business solidifies, it allows us the flexibility to use more resources in different areas. That may be sports science, or building out our training facility or on the playing side with Designated Players. On the team side, that’s where we can start dreaming bigger and bigger,” Hanauer said. “As we think longer-term, things like our youth system may start to take on more of a point of emphasis. It doesn’t do any good to do any of those things unless it’s focused on the goals and objectives.”
While the Sounders have been successful both on the field and off, setting MLS attendance records each year while posting the league’s second-best record since 2009, their individual success isn’t the only accelerator in their progress chart.
MLS is becoming increasingly popular throughout the US. Now with 19 teams and attendance figures that have risen in each of the last three years to reach an all-time league high, many of the American soccer playing youth is growing up to become fans of the league, due in part to the emergence of American stars, but also to the implementation of the Designated Player rule that has attracted the likes of David Beckham and Thierry Henry.
“The growth of the league is just a reflection of the growth of the sport in this country. That provides the confidence and the foundation for the league to be successful and certainly for Sounders FC to be successful,” Hanauer said. “Ultimately, you’re seeing the fruits of that labor in the quality on the field week in and week out within our league and more progress, relative to the rest of the world.”
With the rise in exposure to the league and the elevation of the level of play, MLS teams have become more competitive on the international scene. Since CONCACAF Champions League adopted the format that includes a group stage and knockout round in 2008, the finish of MLS teams has improved each year.
In the first two years, only one MLS team reached the quarterfinals, but neither advanced. In 2010-2011, Real Salt Lake and Columbus met in the quarterfinal, with Salt Lake advancing all the way to the final series before falling to Mexico’s Monterrey in the final. In 2011-2012, the Sounders were among the three MLS teams in the quarterfinals, with Seattle falling to Santos Laguna and Toronto advancing to the semifinals with a win over the LA Galaxy before also falling to Santos.
Finally, this year, the Houston Dynamo have joined Los Angeles and Seattle in the quarterfinals, with each team winning their group.
The Sounders will face Tigres in the quarterfinal round, beginning in March 6 in Monterrey, Mexico, with the return leg March 12 at CenturyLink Field. Seattle will open the MLS season on March 2 at CenturyLink Field against the Montreal Impact.