For each of the club’s first three seasons, the Sounders FC was featured in a mid-week, nationally televised soccer celebration in MLS First Kick.
This year, their berth in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League made that tradition impossible to carry on. So while 16 of the league’s 19 teams opened the season last weekend, the Sounders will kick off their 2012 campaign in a St. Patrick’s Day showdown with Toronto FC at CenturyLink Field.
The Sounders finished the 2011 season with the second-best record in the league while scoring the most goals, continuing an upward trend since they joined MLS in 2009.
In their inaugural season, they finished 12-7-11 (47 points) with 38 goals. 2010 saw them improve to 14-10-6 (48 points) with 39 goals. Last year, they jumped to 18-7-9 (63 points) with 56 goals. In total over those three seasons, only the LA Galaxy had a better record and only FC Dallas scored more goals.
They are one of only four teams to make the playoffs in each of those three seasons, joining LA, Real Salt Lake and the Columbus Crew.
They also became the first team in MLS history to win the US Open Cup three consecutive years.
However, they aren’t willing to rest on their past successes.
“We’re a club that needs to build on what we’ve done in the past. We’re happy with what we’ve done in the past, but it’s not good enough,” midfielder Brad Evans said. “It’s a club from top-to-bottom that wants to do better. We want to see more trophies and more victories.”
That quest in the MLS season begins against Toronto FC – a team that hasn’t reached the playoffs since joining the league in 2007. They finished the 2011 season at just 6-13-15, but saw success in the Canadian Championship to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League, where they advanced to the semifinals on Wednesday night with a 4-3 aggregate goal victory over the LA Galaxy.
Coached by Aron Winter, Toronto utilizes a creative formation that employs the strengths of German midfielder Torsten Frings.
“At times it’s a 3-4-3. At times it’s a 5-4-1. At times it’s a 4-3-3. So it’s a little unorthodox,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “But at the end it’s just 11 players for them and 11 players for us, so we have to make sure we get the match-ups.”
The additions of Frings and Dutch striker Danny Koevermans late last season turned the tide for Toronto and raised the hopes for the club in 2012. Koevermans scored eight goals in ten matches, giving them a great scoring threat up front to fit that formation.
Seattle, though, is more concerned with righting their own wrong than concentrating on the players on the other side of the ball.
The Sounders are coming off a gut-wrenching defeat to Santos Laguna in the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday and will be looking to put that loss behind them as they open the MLS season.
“You don’t want to just look back on Wednesday and say that’s defined our whole preseason, because it hasn’t. We’ve played well throughout preseason – extremely well on all fronts. We just have to get that one out of the back of our minds,” Evans said. “Now the biggest game for us is the opening of the MLS season, but it always feels like we’re in the midseason with the travel and all the games we’ve played. We find ourselves, fitness-wise, pretty good. Playing-wise, we’re pretty good, too. We’re not at mid-season form, yet, but I think mentally we’re ready to go.”
If the Sounders have their way, the people wearing green will have more than just the holiday to celebrate.
“St. Patrick’s Day will be a very good atmosphere in the stadium,” goalkeeper Michael Gspurning said. “We’ll do our best to have a party.”
Kickoff is set for 7 pm, with the match broadcast live on KONG 6/16 and on radio at 97.3 KIRO FM.