A little over a decade later, the Sonics relocated to Oklahoma City, leaving just the Seahawks and Mariners as Seattle’s professional franchises. Around the same time, the Sounders were granted MLS expansion, playing their first season in 2009.
A week prior to the Sounders’s first MLS match, Qwest Field (later renamed CenturyLink Field) was named the site of the 2009 MLS Cup Final, which was played at a neutral site from the league’s inaugural 1996 season through 2011. Approximately 46,000 fans filled the stadium to watch Real Salt Lake take on the LA Galaxy.
Ten years later, a crowd of over 69,000 swarmed CenturyLink Field, the largest ever at the stadium, to watch their own club take on their championship rivals Toronto FC.
Not many had anticipated another championship matchup between the Sounders and their familiar Canadian foes, given the powerhouses in both conferences. Despite strong postseason opposition, the underdogs prevailed.
The Sounders prevailed against Supporters Shield winners LAFC, while Toronto upset both NYCFC and Atlanta United en route to the third MLS Cup Final matchup between the Rave Green and the Reds.
The breakthrough came in the 57th minute, a scorching cross into the box by Kelvin Leerdam deflected off of Toronto defender Chris Mavinga, bulging into the back of the net. The Seattle crowd erupted in celebration as the hosts stepped out into a 1-0 lead.
Not long after, they doubled their lead when a stunning shot by Victor Rodriguez from the top of the 18-yard box curled past a diving Quentin Westburg. With the final whistle quickly approaching, the Seattle crowd grew louder and louder, erupting once more as Raul Ruidiaz extended the lead to 3-0 at the beginning of stoppage time.
Jozy Altidore pulled a goal back in the dying seconds of the match, but it would do nothing to quiet the stadium as the Sounders lifted their second MLS Cup in front of their own fans, another banner to be lifted onto the rafters at CenturyLink Field.
With the 2019 season now past, questions begin to rise about the future of Toronto FC. The team may have seen the last of captain Michael Bradley, who gave all he could in the MLS Cup loss.
Bradley’s contract featured a large incentive for 2019 success. A second MLS Title would have automatically triggered the team’s 2020 option and would have awarded Bradley with a $6.5 million incentive for lifting the cup. Many believe Bradley’s time in Toronto and in professional soccer may come to a close, leaving the Canadian side with a large hole to fill, both on the team sheet and in the locker room.
Bradley isn’t the only one with a cloudy future, as the league itself has a lot on its plate. Along with the conclusion of the 2019 season comes the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement.
The 2020 season faces uncertainty, as did the 2015 season when the negotiations proved difficult, with a walkout narrowly avoided that year. Now with issues like MLS’s overly complex financial systems, lack of chartered flights, and wage concerns for non-star players, not many expect the offseason and CBA bargaining to go smoothly.
Many hope the 2020 season will prove just as exhilarating and entertaining as 2019, but with this year’s silverware finally distributed, fans and players can only wait for next year.