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Seattle Sounders are showing how it should be done

In their inaugural MLS season, the Sounders win the U.S. Open Cup, make the playoffs, draw record attendance and create new league traditions, among other things.

October 29, 2009|GRAHAME L. JONES

In a champagne-drenched locker room at RFK Stadium in Washington in early September, Kasey Keller said something that everyone in Major League Soccer now knows to be true.

"First-year organization or 100-year organization, we're doing it the right way," the former U.S. World Cup goalkeeper said.

He was talking about the Seattle Sounders, who in their first season of existence have produced the model by which all MLS teams, present and future, should be judged.

In their inaugural season, the Sounders, who open the MLS playoffs tonight against the Houston Dynamo, have:

* Won the U.S. Open Cup, defeating two-time winner D.C. United, 2-1, in the final in Washington.

* Reached the playoffs after compiling a 12-7-11 record, fourth-best in the league. One more victory would have given Seattle the best mark in MLS.

* Set an all-time league record with an average attendance of 30,897 at Qwest Field.

* Captured the imagination of Seattle sports fans to such an extent that one of the team's owners, Los Angeles film producer and entrepreneur Joe Roth told The Times on Wednesday that he had "no doubt" the Sounders would sell out their 67,000-seat stadium if the team makes it to the Nov. 22 MLS Cup final.

* Created several new MLS traditions, such as co-owner and comedian Drew Carey's idea of having a marching band lead fans through town and into the stadium.

* Sold out their inaugural playoff game in 30 minutes and then immediately sold out the additional 3,000 upper-deck seats that were opened.

Tonight, Coach Sigi Schmid and his players launch their playoff run at home against two-time MLS champion Houston (7 p.m., ESPN2, ESPN Deportes).

The playoffs continue Saturday with the defending champion Columbus Crew playing at Real Salt Lake. On Sunday, the Chicago Fire is at the New England Revolution (11 a.m., FSC, FSE) and locally, Chivas USA plays host to the Galaxy (2 p.m., ESPN2, ESPN Deportes) in Carson.

But Seattle is the immediate focus, especially with the MLS championship game set to be played in the city next month.

On Saturday, the Sounders defeated FC Dallas to give Schmid his record 125th MLS regular-season coaching victory, surpassing U.S. national team Coach Bob Bradley. The former UCLA, Galaxy and Crew coach already holds the MLS record for playoff victories with 19.

Even Schmid has been amazed at the Sounders' on- and off-field success in 2009.

"When you look at a whole league of 15 teams and you look at an expansion team and you say you're going to finish in the top four in points, I think that's a pretty dang good accomplishment," he said. "We want to have this to continue."

The Sounders smashed the attendance records set by the Galaxy, whose own fortunes were revived in 2009 with the team reaching the playoffs after three barren seasons.

The Galaxy finished in first place in the Western Conference and lost fewer games -- six -- than any other MLS team.

"That certainly wasn't something we were thinking about when we started rebuilding the team in the off-season," Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena said, "but it's a fabulous accomplishment for the players and our coaching staff and our organization.

"It's been gratifying to see the progress that we've made, and hopefully this is the start of things and of having a team that's consistently good. Only time is going to tell."

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

MLS playoffs

Conference semifinals and finals are best-of-two, aggregate-score series. All times Pacific:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Semifinals

* Galaxy vs. Chivas USA

Sunday at Chivas USA, 2 p.m.

Nov. 8 at Galaxy, 4:30 p.m.

* Houston vs. Seattle

Today at Seattle, 7 p.m.

Nov. 8 at Houston, noon.

Finals

Nov. 12 and Nov. 14

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Semifinals

* Columbus vs. Real Salt Lake

Sat. at Real Salt Lake, 3 p.m.

Nov. 5 at Columbus, 5 p.m.

* Chicago vs. New England

Sun. at New England, 11 a.m.

Nov. 7 at Chicago, 5:30 p.m.

Finals

Nov. 12 and Nov. 14

MLS CUP

Nov. 22 at Seattle, 5:30 p.m.

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