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Who Wants to Be An MLS Dynasty? Part II: The Verdict Points To D.C. United

Sigi Schmid has coached all over MLS and has found success at nearly every stop. But have any of his teams risen above and claimed the right to call themselves a dynasty?
Sigi Schmid has coached all over MLS and has found success at nearly every stop. But have any of his teams risen above and claimed the right to call themselves a dynasty?

Last week, we ran through and debated the criteria by which potential MLS dynasties should be judged. Today, it's time to finalize our system and apply it to decide which teams were merely great, and which elevated to a higher plane.

Finalizing the Criteria

We got some really smart comments in Part I. There were suggestions for more criteria (the Hate Factor) and even some discussion of a mathematical system to determine who should qualify for dynasty status. I was tempted by the mathematical formulation, giving x number of points for each type of trophy won, with a points-over-time threshold to qualify as a dynasty. But, as objective as I want to make this discussion, I think a strictly arithmetic exercise might be going too far.

I definitely do agree with one point made in the comments, though: some trophies are worth more than others. MLS Cup and the Supporters' Shield are the league trophies and really are the only trophies that *everybody* is gunning for. So, I'll add a wrinkle to my criteria and require that a minimum of 3 of the trophies won during the prospective dynasty must comprise MLS Cups or Supperters' Shields. Your dynasty doesn't have to consist solely of those two prizes, but they're going to be the core of any dynasty's haul. If you bring home the international trophies but never win the league at home, you're missing something in my book. Same if you only win the Open Cup but never the league.

And thus, we have our criteria:

  • Winningness. A dynasty must win trophies. Nothing short of silverware will be considered.
  • Importance. A dynasty must win at least three MLS "championship trophies" (SS/MLS Cup) during its term.
  • Dominance. A dynasty must win more than one trophy per year over the course of its dynastic period.
  • Longevity. A dynasty must win trophies in at least three different years during its ascendency.
  • Continuity. A dynasty in MLS must not go more than one season empty-handed. Consecutive years without hardware breaks the continuity.
Some commenters raised the valid point that my criteria, if applied to other sports, would exclude some consensus dynasties, like the Bill Walsh 49ers. For that reason, I'll add the disclaimer that these criteria are MLS-specific - and more than that, they're MLS-2011-specific. The short history of the league and the number of trophies up for grabs each season, I think, create a situation unique in American sports and require a singular definition of what constitutes a dynasty. After a few more years, we might need to redefine what makes a dynasty. So don't go throwing these criteria at other sports or other aspects of everyday life ("What criteria should we use to judge a restaurant dynasty?"). This is a custom job, and the criteria will only fit our humble little soccer league at this moment in its history.

With all disclaimers out of the way, after the jump, we'll look at some of the great runs in MLS history and determine which ones have earned the right to be called Dynasty.

Determining the Dynasties

D.C. United , 1996-1999: The original and still the best. United won a fantastical eight trophies in MLS's first four years. The Black-and-Red inaugurated the league by winning the Cup Double (MLS Cup + USOC) and followed it up the next year with the first ever League Double (SS + MLS Cup). They spent 1998 focusing internationally, bringing home the CONCACAF Champions' Cup and the Copa Interamericana (the last ever awarded, in fact). Finally, DCU brought home another League Double in 1999, capping what remains the most impressive four-year run by an MLS team, ever. They easily meet all my criteria, exceeding standards in most categories, and truly deserve to be considered MLS's first dynasty.

Los Angeles Galaxy , 2000-2005 2002: The Galaxy actually kicked off their trophy streak with the CONCACAF Champions' Cup in 2000 before winning the U.S. Open Cup in 2001 and the League Double in 2002. They then went through a couple of cold years before taking down the Cup Double in 2005. Unfortunately for them, those last two trophies won't count here because of the intervening two-year period. Still, 4 trophies in three years is almost enough to make the cut; however, the Gals fall just short of true dynastic greatness, with only two league trophies to their credit during the relevant period (2000-2002). (Funnily enough, they would have made the cut had I not been convinced to work in the importance of the league trophies. Sorry, Carsonites.)

San Jose Earthquakes /Houston Dynamo , 2001-2007: This is the longest run of good form in league history - five league trophies in seven years. Just for the sake of curiosity, I decided to test the Dynaquakes as if the move from the South Bay to Houston doesn't matter. As it turns out, for my purposes, it doesn't. As impressive as their string of trophies to kick off the last decade was - and it really, really was impressive - a dynasty it was not. Over their last five years in San Jose, the Quakes won MLS Cup twice and the Shield once before moving to Houston and claiming two straight MLS Cup titles. They definitely won enough hardware and enough league hardware over a satisfactorily continuous timeline. But, they never won more than one trophy in a year. They averaged less than a trophy per season over their reign, so I can't call them a dynasty. A great run, for sure, but not a dynasty.

D.C. United, 2004-2008: The rejuvenated United brought down the MLS Cup in 2004 and two straight Supporters' Shields in 2006 and 2007. They capped their run with the Open Cup in 2008. Enough league hardware, but like the Quakemo, they won less than one trophy per year, and I can't in good conscience call them a dynasty.

That covers all the teams and runs in Major League Soccer's brief history that are even in the conversation for dynastic status. Only one rose above mere greatness to claim the elusive mantle, though, and it was D.C. United in the league's first four seasons. But although only one has come before, it does not mean that none will ever follow. There are two teams that are potentially in the midst of their own dynastic conquest, having won multiple trophies in the last couple years. Neither has the proper bonafides as of yet, but both have moved from mere titlists to put together a string of wins that might yet lead to dynasty.

Current Potential:

  • Columbus Crew , 2008-present: The Crew had a really scary couple of years to finish out the last decade. Scary, that is, if you weren't a Crewzer. Columbus won three trophies in two years, taking down a League Double in 2008 and a second straight Supporters' Shield in 2009. If the Crew manage two trophies this year, no matter which two they are, we can call them a dynasty. However, the odds of the Crew bringing home any silverware this year don't seem to be much above zero.
  • Seattle Sounders FC, 2009-present: As much as it pained me then and pains me now, the Sounders have won two consecutive U.S. Open Cups, putting them in the conversation. (The pain, as any United fans know, is from the 2009 Open Cup in Seattle's debut season and specifically from the Final at RFK.) The Sounders haven't really been within proper grasping distance of any league hardware yet - they've been good, no doubt, but not championship material. Nonetheless, they've prioritized the Open Cup to good effect. If they can turn that USOC success into big-time league success over the next couple years (say, a double and another league trophy in the next two seasons), they will have earned the right.


Obviously, these results do happen to mesh with my preconceived notion that the D.C. United of the 1990s was MLS's only dynasty, so far. Though L.A. came close in its run at the start of the last decade, their lack of league hardware before a short dry spell relegated them to "merely great" stature. A couple teams have a shot at claiming "dynasty" in the next year or two, but forgive me if I don't think either actually will. (Not because there's anything wrong with the Crew or Sounders, but because winning multiple trophies over multiple years is difficult.)

I think I like the criteria as applied, and not just because my D.C. homerism gets another feather in its cap. It is really rather hard to get to be called a dynasty, and that's the way it should be if the term is going to mean anything beyond "they were pretty good for a spell there." It is necessarily difficult. To make the cut, you have to win a lot of competitions regularly over a long-ish time span. That's a tricky feat in MLS, and one that should be properly recognized with an undiluted definition of dynasty.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think of the results and the process in the comments.