This season, three MLS clubs – Seattle Sounders FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the San Jose Earthquakes – are celebrating 40 years of soccer tradition and heritage. In one week's time, Sounders FC will have faced both of the other clubs that are honoring their ruby anniversaries after a 1-0 win over San Jose last Saturday and a road match against Vancouver this week on Saturday.
All three cities entered the North American Soccer League in 1974 with lofty fan bases and expectations to match. And while Seattle and San Jose would race out of the gates with a playoff appearance in the inaugural season, it would be the Whitecaps that would have the lone Soccer Bowl title among the three teams.
In 11 seasons, the Earthquakes would reach the postseason four times, but never made it to Soccer Bowl. Among the players to don the red and white jersey was future Tacoma Stars legend Steve Zungul, who won NASL MVP honors in the final season of the league in 1984.
Vancouver also played 11 seasons in the NASL, making nine playoff appearances after starting with a dismal 5-11-4 record in the inaugural season in 1974. A string of five 20-win seasons over six years cemented the Whitecaps as one of the best teams in the league, but they only had one Soccer Bowl title to show for it, beating the Tampa Bay Rowdies for the 1979 championship behind Coach of the Year Tony Waiters. Built around solid foundations each year, Vancouver never had a league MVP.
Meanwhile in Seattle, the Sounders had the best start of the three clubs with a 10-7-3 record in 1974, and it wasn't until 1978 that either Vancouver or San Jose would post a better record than Seattle. Seattle had two MVP’s – Roger Davies in 1980 and Peter Ward in 1982 – and reached Soccer Bowl in 1977 and 1982, losing to the New York Cosmos in both years. Like their MLS counterparts, the Sounders were the standard-bearers for attendance in the NASL, averaging over 20,000 fans in four of the club's 10 seasons.
At the MLS level, San Jose got a head-start with the league's inaugural season in 1996, playing until 2005 before being relocated to Houston. In the first go-round, the Clash/Earthquakes won two MLS Cups and reached the playoffs in six out of 10 seasons, the high watermark coming in the final season in 2005 when they went 18-4-10 to win the Supporters' Shield. In that time, they had 11 different players named to the MLS Best XI, including goalkeeper Pat Onstad twice and some of the league's top all-time scorers in Landon Donovan, Brian Ching, Ronald Cerritos and Dwayne De Rosario.
After returning as an expansion team in 2008, San Jose has been up and down, reaching the playoffs just twice in six seasons, although the Earthquakes won the Supporters' Shield in 2012 behind MVP Chris Wondolowski, who is a two-time MLS Best XI selection.
The Whitecaps have one playoff appearance in three seasons and one MLS Golden Boot winner—Camilo Sanvezzo in 2013.
Of the three clubs, Seattle has been the most successful with its current MLS club. In five seasons entering this year, Seattle compiled a 74-54-44 record, winning more games in five seasons than San Jose (69) did in six seasons. Sounders FC has reached the playoffs in all five years and has had three different players – Freddie Ljungberg, Kasey Keller and Osvaldo Alonso – earn MLS Best XI honors. In addition, Seattle has an unprecedented run of three consecutive U.S. Open Cup titles.
Each team can stake its claim to the best of the trio for different reasons, but one thing they all share in common is a strong tie to the illustrious histories of their respective cities.