In the ongoing wave of MLS expansion, Salt Lake took a while to find itself, Toronto never has, San Jose may be doing so just now. Philadelphia started typically, blossomed into a playoff team in year two, and has become something of a sad circus at the start of year three. Portland started OK, but has stepped back so far in its second season. Vancouver is stepping forward in its second season, but went through three coaches along the way. Montreal, at 3-5-2, is a work in progress, but no instant prodigy.
And then there is Sounders FC, which started strong in year one, got better in two, better still in three, and now is off to its best start yet -- 6-1-1 -- in year four. Not to mention one head coach, three trophies and three playoff appearances along the way.
Last week I asked coach Sigi Schmid about this aspect of his club's success.
"I’ve always said we didn’t view ourselves as an expansion team in Year One," he said. "I think our approach was solid: the combination of the work that (technical director) Chris Henderson and (general manger Adrian Hanauer) have done and just how we put the team together. I think to be consistent – and I think we’ve been very consistent over four years – is something that for sure – taking Chicago out of the equation – none of the other expansion teams have been able to do. You find out that it’s hard to get there, it’s harder to stay there. Getting there is the easy part.
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"It’s like an old coach told me: 'Every dogs has its day.' But the point is getting there is one aspect. But then maintaining it, staying there, winning games when you’re considered to be the favorite team, winning games when there’s pressure on you, when people expect you to win, is a different thing than winning when no one expects you to win, when you can catch people by surprise, when you’ve had a bad season and you come out of nowhere and go forward. I think we’ve shown the capability of doing both. I think we won games early on in our first season when people weren’t sure what we were going to be all about, and now people have higher expectations for us and we’ve still found ways to win more games than we concede."