Whenever a team bunches a few championships together, some natural debates spring up. Perhaps the most contentious revolves around dubbing one team or another a "dynasty." This being sports, there's no clear definition of what constitutes a dynasty. For the most part, we use the old "pornography test" ie, we know it when we see it.
Most seem to agree that the only real dynastic period of MLS occurred during the earliest days, when D.C. United advanced to each of the first four MLS Cup finals and won three of them. They also won the Supporters' Shield two of those years (although it hadn't been named that yet) and never finished lower than third. Just for good measure, they also won a U.S. Open Cup (1996) and a CONCACAF Champions Cup (1998). Seven major trophies in four years is a run of success that no MLS team can come close to matching. Nothing that happens in Saturday's MLS Cup final between the LA Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo is going to change that fact.
But it is worth recognizing that the winner of Saturday's game will at least be able to make the argument that they are at least building a pretty strong case, albeit one that would encompass a much longer period of time.
Let's review some of the hallmarks of a sports dynasty:
- Sustained success: Generally speaking, three titles is the minimum requirement. It gets a little more complicated in soccer where there are multiple trophies to win each year. I think a good starting point is averaging more than one major trophy ever two years.
- Continuity: There has to be some common thread that ties the teams together beyond the name. Having the same coach or several of the same players should be sufficient.
- Length of time: The minimum has to be at least three years.
How then do the Galaxy and Dynamo stack up?
Landon Donovan seems to think we should be looking all the way back to 2005 when talking about a potential Galaxy dynasty. That's a convenient thing to want, as that was the year Donovan joined the Galaxy and when they won the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup. But I think it diminishes their resume. Including the subsequent three seasons, in which they failed to make the playoffs each year, is a pretty significant mark against them. On the other hand, this team still has three players from that 2005 squad, with Josh Saunders and Todd Dunivant joining Donovan.
I think it's perhaps more interesting to look at a potential Galaxy dynasty as starting in 2009. The Galaxy were the top seed in the West that year and advanced to the MLS Cup final, where they lost to Real Salt Lake. The following year, they won the Supporters' Shield. In 2011, they became the first team since 2009 to win both the MLS Cup and the Supporters' Shield. If they win the MLS Cup this year, that will give them four major trophies in four years. Another MLS Cup in 2013 would clearly mark them as a dynasty. What further bolsters their case is that even if Donovan and Beckham leave after this year, there could still be as many as six players who will have been on everyone of those teams.
While I think it better serves the Galaxy's case to shorten the timeframe, the Dynamo are better served by stretching it out a bit. If the Dynamo win on Saturday, this will be their third MLS Cup title since 2006. They have already been to four of the past seven finals, but they really need to win this one to have any legitimate case because they have yet to supplement their MLS achievements with any notable U.S. Open Cup or CONCACAF Champions League success.
Unlike the Galaxy, though, the Dynamo did not lump in a long string of poor play between their first and most recent runs to the final as they only missed the playoffs once between 2006 and now. There's also a fair amount of continuity between those teams, as three players (Brad Davis, Brian Ching and Ricardo Clark) and head coach Dominic Kinnear will have been on all three potential MLS Cup winners.
While a win on Saturday won't give them dynasty status, I do think that it sets them up for that potential label. If they can win the CCL, Open Cup or Supporters' Shield and advance to the final again in 2013, I'd be very comfortable mentioning them alongside the likes of D.C. United.