The changing identity of … Seattle Sounders FC

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The public face of Clint Dempsey’s transfer saga unfolded so quickly, it may take some time to come to grips with the implications. It’s difficult to imagine a bigger, more realistic transfer target coming to Major League Soccer, and four days ago, you couldn’t even consider Dempsey realistic. After Adrian Hanauer’s coup, we’ll have to get used to expanding our imaginations.

Once we calibrate, there’ll be a whole new way of seeing the Sounders. Instead of this crowd-drawing juggernaut aspiring to see its competitive goals match off-field success, a new perception will see Seattle as keepers of a war chest capable of eclipsing any in Major League Soccer. Like it or not, that’s often how fans characterize teams. The LA Galaxy are big-spending haves. The New York Red Bulls are big-spending haves. Now, Seattle Sounders are part of that axis of evil.

As Sounders supporters might chant, “no one likes us, we don’t care,” an irreverence that meets a new reality after Saturday truly made them the envy of Major League Soccer. Whether you like Dempsey as a player, whether you like the idea of committing such a large sum to one talent, Seattle did it. They became the first team to reach into Europe and pay a significant fee for a indisputably desirable target. Is Dempsey huge, worldwide headlines big? No, but these are exactly the type of acquisitions MLS fans have wanted since Day 0.

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For much of MLS’s history, those expectations have had to be tempered. Not so in Seattle. Now, those consistent 38,000-plus crowds have a new context. Now the backing of people like Joe Roth, Paul Allen, and Drew Carey has potential as well as prestige. For the first time, Seattle has shown hints of realizing the potential written in their DNA. They can indeed be Galaxy north.

With potential becomes expectation. Even though they currently sit in seventh, missing the playoffs is not an option. Once there, the type of collapses Seattle’s recently suffered in Sandy and Carson won’t be acceptable. Though sports history is littered with talented teams that lost for reasonable reasons, the Sounders will be expected to perform to a reasonable, high, championship-level. If they don’t succeed in bringing a title, they better force another team to o something exception.

For a fanbase that defined its team by trophies based on U.S. Open Cup success, silverware will be a priority, especially since the huge commitment of that fan base is what made this move financially possible. More U.S. Open Cups, please, but also Supporters Shields, MLS Cups, and start really competing for CONCACAF Champions League. If not now, at least acknowledge the club is now on that road. Seattle’s scope changed the second Dempsey unzipped his grey hoody.

Much of Major League Soccer, still toiling on the edge of profitability, hamstrung by the realities of a league still in its adolescence, won’t be happy about that. Reasonably (and admittedly), there’ll be envy. That, however, is the new identity of the Sounders, which means if MLS is truly in an adolescence, Seattle’s become the kid drives its BMW to high school, seamlessly aces all the AP classes, and dates the girl you want to ask to prom. And you’re not sure whether you hate them or want to be them.

These are your new Seattle Sounders.