TORONTO — As the Seattle Sounders languished near the Western Conference cellar this past summer, the club's veteran core shared an unspoken motive.
As the only players remaining from Seattle's inaugural MLS campaign in 2009, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans and Zach Scott had marked every fall with a trip to the postseason. It was a tradition they had grown accustomed to, and one they had no intention of nixing.
"I don't know if we ever flat-out said it to each other, but I think we all realized that we didn't want to be a part of a team that didn't make the playoffs for the first time ever," Scott told Goal USA. "We didn't want to have that attached to our names."
The rest of the story, as of Saturday night, is history. The Sounders replaced coach Sigi Schmid with longtime assistant Brian Schmetzer while newcomer Nicolas Lodeiro galvanized the attack. Ninth place became fourth, and a run to the league title game ensued.
After a scoreless draw with Toronto FC in the MLS Cup final, the Sounders ended their league title drought with a 5-4 victory on penalties at BMO Field. As Schmetzer mulled Seattle's historic turnaround, he gave due credit to the likes of Lodeiro, Jordan Morris and Roman Torres. But while the Sounders' fresh faces have dominated the comeback narrative, the coach feels the roots of that tenacity run much deeper.
"They've been resilient for a long time," Schmetzer said of his squad. "If my memory serves me correct, guys like Zach Scott are very resilient. Guys like Brad, guys like Ozzie — they're all pretty resilient."
Scott added: "There's an aspect of having that veteran leadership, having a group of guys that have been through almost everything together and being able to pick up the guys who are maybe a little shell-shocked by a pretty bad start to year."
No player punctuated that perseverance more than Alonso. Coping with a knee injury suffered in the Western Conference final second leg, the 31-year-old said he took four painkilling injections before Saturday's match and another four at halftime. The discomfort didn't stop him from delivering a performance for the ages, as Alonso dug deep to win countless battles over 120 minutes in defensive midfield.
"You know, I've been here a long time waiting for this moment — first final, first cup," Alonso said. "Seven times making the playoffs, losing the conference semifinal, conference final. To get to this point this year — when we at the beginning of the season were bottom of the table — and win the trophy is amazing."
Evans, on the other hand, had been limited to 80 minutes since the end of August because of back and ankle injuries. But he came on in extra time Saturday and stepped up with a crucial contribution: slotting home Seattle's first penalty to set the tone for the shootout.
Although Scott didn't see the field against Toronto, the retiring center back already proved his worth this postseason when he gamely replaced an injured Torres for both legs of the conference semifinal upset of FC Dallas.
Through all of the changes in personnel over the past eight years, Alonso, Evans and Scott have seen a consistent vision from the Seattle front office. With an expansion campaign defined by a competitive team on the field and record-breaking attendance off it, Adrian Hanauer and the Sounders' ownership group set the club on a path to MLS Cup glory — even if there was plenty of playoff heartbreak along the way.
"I think we changed the course of what an expansion team looks like in 2009, and that's a credit to our ambition," Evans said. "That was our ownership group. They're a bunch of guys who want to win at all costs. If that means spending money, splashing, if that means the best facilities, then that's what we did from the beginning to make it feel like a proper football club.
"So in that way, we like to pay respect to our club because we have nothing but the best there. When you do that, you take pride in it."
Combined, the three veterans have made 592 MLS appearances for the Sounders. While 134 of those belong to Scott, the 36-year-old is the club's runaway appearance leader when including matches he played for Seattle in the lower levels from 2002 to 2008.
Alonso and Evans should return for the Sounders' title defense, but Scott is going out on top after 15 years with the organization. Re-signed as depth this past winter while Torres recovered from a torn ACL, Scott figured he was a short-term solution for Seattle. It wasn't until June, in fact, that he came to comprehend he'd be keeping his roster slot for the full season.
"The entire year was a year that I didn't expect," Scott said. "It felt like almost a bonus year, to be honest with you. The fact that it ends like this is even better, but I never could have written this script in a million years."
As the club originals spoke in the champagne-soaked visitors' locker room at BMO Field, fears of missing the postseason felt like ages ago. Alonso, Evans and Scott ultimately weren't tarnishing their Sounders legacy in 2016 — they were elevating it.