The Seattle Sounders play in their first-ever MLS Cup Saturday night in Canada against Toronto FC.
Knkx sports commentator Art Thiel talked with 88.5’s Kirsten Kendrick about the matchup and how the Sounders’ rocky road to the championship is similar to another Seattle sports team.
A Big Deal
The thousands of diehard Sounders fans who've been with the team through thick and thin know what's at stake on Saturday. For the casual fan, Thiel said to think of the MLS Cup like the Super Bowl.
"This is the biggest deal in North American soccer," he said. "This is a one-and-done deal. There's no aggregate goal. So this is a very clean, decisive game.
"The interesting thing is that, even though this is soccer's Super Bowl, it's more like the Mariners. Because neither team has ever been to the championship before.
"The Mariners have taken 40 years to never make it to the championship," Thiel joked. "The Sounders are only in their eighth year now.
"They have been a business success story unrivaled in North America. But the resources and the revenues that they've managed to accumulate haven't led to a championship, at least a championship opportunity — until now."
Thiel points out the it was an unlikely year for the Sounders to make it to the championship. They fired their coach midseason and had star player Clint Dempsey sidelined by an irregular heartbeat.
"This calls for another Seattle sports analogy," he said. "Because what's happened to the Sounders in terms of firing their coach and going on to a stellar season was replicated in 1977.
"The Seattle SuperSonics started out the 1977 season 5-17, which is even worse than what the Sounders were in midseason.
"They fired the coach, Bob Hopkins, and hired Lenny Wilkens and the transformation got them to the 1978 NBA Finals. They lost. But then, kept the core together and won Seattle's first major pro sports championship in 1979.
"The most amazing thing about what's gone on with the Sounders is that they were so desperate and in such bad shape that they fired their coach.
"He'd been the only coach they'd had in their MLS history and [that] really disappointed a young man who knew Sigi Schmid for his whole life and hero worshiped him and also turned out to be maybe the Sounders best player."
Star To Watch
Thiel said that player is Mercer Island native Jordan Morris.
"He's an astonishing figure here. A year ago, he was debating about whether to give up his senior year in college at Stanford and turn pro.
"He grew up, basically, from being a boy to a man right before our eyes throughout this Sounders season and was named [MLS] Rookie of the Year.
"He and Jozy Altidore, who is the star player for Toronto, are the two players who will draw the most focus from North American sports fans."
Morris The Next Griffey?
"Morris, in particular, I think is another analogy to a sports hero — Ken Griffey Jr.," Thiel said.
"Morris signed a pro contract amid much high expectations and, so far, he's lived up to it. I'm not going to say that Morris is going to be as good as Junior. But the parallels are strong here.
"I think watching Morris in this game is going to be a transcendent moment for a generation of Sounders fans who will see him be the central figure as Griffey was with the Mariners."
Sounders Have The Edge
Thiel expects Morris to feature prominently in Saturday's match. As far as the game itself goes, he said it's an unlikely matchup.
"Both of these teams were unexpected," he said. "Toronto finished third in the Eastern Conference with a 14-9-11 record. And the Sounders were fourth [in the Western Conference] at 14 wins, 14 losses and six draws.
"I think the Sounders winning here would a big deal toward the Sounders' aspirations to be a major force on the international soccer scene.
"Toronto is a very good club. I think the Sounders have the edge. I'm going to say they're going to pull this off and bring a championship to Seattle."