Sounders proving last year’s title run was no fluke — this team is soaring

Thursday’s match against Houston turned into a party and Seattle is primed to defend its first MLS Cup.

All those months ago, when the MLS season was in its infancy, Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey characterized the 2017 season as a referendum for the Sounders.

Would Seattle’s MLS Cup the previous year be regarded, in his words, as “kind of fluky and lucky”? Or would the Sounders show that they were a team that could sustain success “and take it to the next level”, he pondered. The next 10 months would tell the story.

On Thursday, with the din of a boisterous, buoyant, near-sellout crowd at CenturyLink Field providing a chorus of approval, the Sounders provided on exclamation point on a season that has knocked any notion of flukiness out of the equation. And the apex of the next level — a second straight title — is squarely within their sights.

MLS Cup

Sounders FC @ Toronto, Saturday Dec. 9, 1 p.m., ESPN

These Sounders, a revelation since Brian Schmetzer took over as coach in the darkest and dreariest days of the ’16 season, are headed back to the MLS Cup, now fully established as a bona fide powerhouse.

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Taking an aggressor’s role despite the comfort of a two-goal lead, the Sounders scored first to knock the will out of the Houston Dynamo, and then added two more second-half goals to end all doubt. The 3-0 victory and 5-0 aggregate margin — the shutout was their sixth straight — gives them a surge of momentum at just the right time.

They are now headed for a championship rematch with Toronto FC, the MLS’s best club this year and primed to avenge last season, when the Sounders went without a shot on goal in regulation and overtime during the title match yet prevailed on penalty kicks.

That was a heady moment for the Sounders franchise and validated a long stretch for Seattle as arguably America’s most rabid soccer city, yet without a title to show for it. On Thursday, they had the added bonus of celebrating a conference title at home on a night that quickly turned into a coronation.

Every minute that went by without a Houston goal was a victory of sorts for the Sounders, who had to be expecting a furious attack from the Dynamo on the basis of their road-goal deficit. But Seattle that got the vital first score, a nifty finish by Victor Rodriguez in the 23rd minute off a deft feed by Will Bruin.

You could practically…

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