The key word is could.
But even that is something we didn't know a month ago. A month ago, a lot of folks were looking at the Sounders and saying they might contend for the playoffs. Three games in, it seems clear that Sounders fans -- and the Sounders themselves -- have every reason to reach higher.
And the key words from that paragraph are three games.
In MLS, three games represents 10 percent of the regular season. That's not much, but it's not nothing. It's like 16 games of a baseball season or eight games of an NBA season. It's not a lot, but its enough to begin forming some impressions and for statistics to start taking on meaning.
Impressions: The goal-scoring is as good as might have been hoped, but the defense is better than anyone could have dreamed. ... On the day he was hired, coach Sigi Schmid said his time at Columbus taught him the importance of building a solid midfield early; and so far the Sounders have had a solid midfield. ... Kasey Keller and Freddy Ljungberg aren't just names to sell tickets or guys playing out the ends of their careers. They are both giving every indication of being players with the skills to make the difference between winning and losing MLS games. ... The expansion draft was handled wisely. ... The trade for Tyrone Marshall was just the kind of deal that doesn't really register as genius until you see its result out there on the pitch, where Marshall is becoming just the right dab of glue that holds the backline together. ... Fredy Montero, Sanna Nyassi and Sabastien Le Toux were all sweet signings that have given this roster the kind of talent most expansion teams don't enjoy. ... Adrian Hanauer must be feeling pretty good about how he'll come through that first supporters alliance vote about his future. ... MLS awarding this season's MLS Cup to Seattle is looking a little less ceremonial and a little more significant than it did at the time. ... If Sigi Schmid wins an MLS Cup with his third franchise, the league needs to not only give him the coach of the year award, but they need to name it after him. ... Bottom line impression: Might the Sounders be the best team in MLS? Yeah, they might be.
Statistics: The Sounders have scored the most goals in MLS (7) and given up the fewest (0). They have a perfect nine points after three games, tied with Chivas USA for best in the league. Chivas, however, has scored six goals and surrendered two. ... Seattle apparently isn't doing this against such weak opposition that the statistics should be considered misleading: New York made the MLS Cup last season. Real Salt Lake made the Western finals, returned most of its roster and was a popular pre-season pick in the West this season. Remove the Sounders game from their records, and the Seattle's three opponents so far have a combined 2-1-2 record. ... The Sounders fast start is beginning to break some of the expansion records of the 1998 Chicago Fire ... which won MLS Cup.
A couple of other things: If early form holds, and Sounders and Chivas are the top contenders in the West, then the schedule has given a slight advantage to Chivas. The MLS' "balanced" schedule is unbalanced to the degree that each team plays a third game against two teams. In the Sounders' case, it's San Jose and Chivas. However, in the Sounders-Chivas pairing, it's two games in Los Angeles (April 18 and June 6) and one in Seattle (Sept. 19). (Chivas also gets its other "rival" game against Los Angeles, which for now is behind San Jose in the standings.) ... Finally, some incorrect playoff-format information was given in another Sounders blog recently. Here's the real deal: Eight teams qualify based on their point totals at the end of the regular season. However, it is not the top four teams in each conference. It's the top two finishers in each conference along with the next four teams with the highest point totals regardless of conference. The 1's and 2's are the high seeds in the first round, the others are considered the wild cards. The conference semi-finals are decided by home-and-home aggregate-goal score starting at the site of the lower seeded team. The conference finals are decided by a single game, as is MLS Cup.