Seattle Sounders cruise into MLS Cup Final and might prove the league's next dynasty

(AP)

Officially, Major League Soccer cherishes and nurtures its parity. It’s a league that prides itself on the fact that, on paper, anybody can win it. And it’s unapologetic about the inherently restrictive salary cap and the various talent-distribution mechanisms that keep the playing field even.

Yet for a league that works so hard at keeping its 22 teams on par, it has a funny habit of producing dynasties. The LA Galaxy has won the championship a record five teams, including three times in four years from 2011 through 2014, and losing the final four times — for nine total final appearances in the 21 seasons the league has existed. D.C. United won three of the league’s first four championships from 1996 through 1999, losing the final in ’98.

Other teams, while not as successful, have also put together dominant runs. The Houston Dynamo won in 2006 and 2007 and lost the final in 2011 and 2012. The San Jose Earthquakes won in 2001 and 2003. The New England Revolution has lost five finals — and won none — including four in six years from 2002 through 2007.

The 2017 MLS Cup Final will feature the exact same match-up as it did in 2016. The Seattle Sounders will defend their title against Toronto FC. Seattle won on penalties after a scoreless tie last year, in spite of not putting a single shot on goal during regulation. It capped an improbable run to the trophy, given that midway through the season, the Sounders lingered towards the bottom of the Western Conference and made a coaching switch, before a series of tight results brought them the cup.

Toronto will seek revenge and a Canadian treble of sorts, attempting to add the MLS Cup to the Supporters’ Shield and a Canadian Championship already clinched this year.

The game, slated for Dec. 9, will include the team with the league’s biggest payroll for a second year in a row. That would be Toronto. Seattle placed fifth in payroll in 2016 and seventh in 2017, not exactly making them paupers. Perhaps the game will even live up to its considerable star power this year.

On Thursday, the Sounders cruised past the Houston Dynamo by extending their 2-0 lead from the first leg in Texas with a first-half goal. A give-and-go by Victor Rodriguez with Will Bruin set up the former, who got the ball back and chipped goalkeeper Joe Willis with a neat finish. It was the first shot on goal of either team.


After the break, Clint Dempsey added a second by tapping in a sharp Joevin Jones cross.


Houston was never really in it, and things were made worse after the hour when Tomas Martinez was sent off for smacking Jordy Delem’s head into the turf while he was down on the ground.


To make things worse, Harry Shipp teed Bruin up perfectly for a third goal that meant the Dynamo would be returning home with a 5-0 aggregate walloping


On Wednesday, Toronto had squeaked past the Columbus Crew with a scrappy goal from the injured Jozy Altidore — the only tally in 180 minutes. The general drabness was in keeping with what has been a dispiriting and dull playoffs.

So another dynasty might be born. Or, at the very least, a big-time rivalry between some of the league’s bigger franchises. And for all of MLS’s efforts to avoid dynasties — through policy if not necessarily direct intervention — they are probably wrong to dull that kind of dominance.

History has shown that fans like the idea of every team being able to win. But that, in reality, they prefer to see the narrative served up by an extended string of titles or finals appearances by a single team — or a pair of them. And that they enjoy the excellence ordinarily accompanying such a stretch of success.

Consider, for instance, the interest that the Galaxy brought to the league when they chopped up the rest of the competition for several years, claiming all that silverware. It helped, of course, that the team was anchored by the appeal of David Beckham and Landon Donovan. But for several years, the Galaxy struggled to make things work with those two. They became a beloved team only when they began winning things consistently.

It’s too soon to tell if the Sounders, or indeed TFC, has the makings of Major League Soccer’s next dynasty. Both have the requisite pieces in Altidore, Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco in Toronto; and Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris in Seattle. They are talented and well-coached teams. But there is more winning to be done.

The 2017 final will be a flashback to 2016. And that’s not boring. That’s exciting. It makes for digestible story lines. And it makes MLS more compelling to watch.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.