Dave Clark over at Sounder at Heart has an interesting read up asking who has earned the right to call themselves an MLS Dynasty in the league's brief decade and a half of existence. The story was prompted by a twitter conversation amongst some of the SBN MLS writers in which B&RU's own Martin Shatzer claimed that D.C. United in the first years of the league were and remain the only dynasty in the history of MLS.
I think Martin is probably right. (Full disclosure: I am an unabashed United homer.) Dave points out a lot of candidates for the label, but I think that United over the four seasons from 1996 to 1999 are probably the only team who can rightly claim the mantle. To really nail this down, though, I think we need to set out the criteria we'll use to judge each team's dynastic potential. I'm not a big fan of "we know it when we see it;" I want an objective standard. Unfortunately, we don't have decades of history to look back on for guidance; we have to come by our own standard to define dynasty.
To that effect, I'll break this post into two parts. In this first installment, we'll debate the theory and talk about what the standard is. Next time, we'll turn to application and run some of the candidates through the ringer to see how they stack up.
First and foremost, I think we all agree that a dynasty has to win, and win when it counts. It's going to have the silverware to show you exactly what it's won. Appearances in the Big Show aren't enough - nobody this side of Buffalo is going to argue that Jim Kelly QB'd a dynastic team.
Winning isn't enough, though. A dynasty has to win a lot . Almost to the point of being boring. In a universe that awards several trophies in any given year, I don't think winning one trophy a year is enough. I don't know where the right percentage to draw the line is, but only winning 1/3 of the hardware over your period of ascendance isn't enough.
But wait, there's more. A dynasty wins, and wins a lot, but the difference between a good team and a dynasty is longevity. Winning one double - or even an unprecedented American Treble or a ZOMG-inducing Quad - wouldn't be enough to be a dynasty if the team went out and sucked all over the field the next year. If you want to be a dynasty, you've got to win over some period of years. I don't think two is a long enough period - we've already got the term "back-to-back" for that. I think three years is probably the minimum, given the parity and short history of our league; besides, if the most concise term for your accomplishment is literally trademarked , I'm okay with calling you a dynasty.
Finally, you've got to be consistent. Not just consistently contending for hardware - a dynasty brings home the bacon on the regular. In other professional American sports, there's only one trophy to bring home, so going two or even three years between championships might not disqualify a team from dynastic status. In soccer, though, we've got three domestic pieces of silverware to hand out each year. If you go more than one season without winning at least one of them, I think you're out of contention. You've lost your continuity.
So, to distill everything into a neat little list for the sake of debate:
The Elements of Dynasty
- Almost doesn't count. Trophies aren't horseshoes or hand grenades. Win or go home. Etc.
- Win more than one trophy a year (on average) over the period of the dynasty.
- Even mere mortals can repeat on occasion; keep the success going by winning hardware in at least three years during the course of the dynasty.
- No multi-year gaps between trophies. One off-year is generous enough.
Remember, the point here isn't to say who was a good team or even who was a great team. MLS has actually had plenty of exceptional teams since 1996. What I'm trying to flesh out here is how to define that loftiest of descriptions: a dynasty.
So, what do you think? Are my criteria too strict? Not exclusive enough? Any factors that I missed? Let me hear it in the comments, and if you convince me, I'll incorporate suggestions into the next installment, where we decide who gets to claim to have ever been an MLS Dynasty.