To call the end of the 2013 MLS season a disappointment for the Seattle Sounders FC is an understatement.
The Sounders came into the 2013 season armed with arguably the best team in the league, but struggled early on with injuries and a lack of chemistry, despite their highly talented roster. With quality international players such as Mario Martinez, Obafemi Martins, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans, the Sounders certainly didn’t lack attacking options. Combine that with the indispensable work rate of Osvaldo Alonso, the creativity of Mauro Rosales and the immense presence of Djimi Traore in the heart of defense, it is understandable that Sounders fans were baffled when their team sat in seventh place in the Western Conference after 19 matches.
To be fair, the Sounders had a torrid time with injuries and were not helped by the mixed blessing of national team call-ups for World Cup Qualifying.
Although head coach Sigi Schmid did eventually right the ship by leading the Sounders to the top of the Western Conference table with only five games to go, a leaky defense and an inept attack saw them finish the regular season with four losses and a draw.
A sixth place overall finish in the Supporters’ Shield standings and a 3-2 loss in the MLS Western Conference semifinal against arch rivals Portland Timbers meant that Sounders fans did not have a lot to smile about. Unfortunately for the Rave green faithful, it looks like the offseason is going to cause even more headaches.
With the season behind them, Schmid and the Sounders organization have already began the process of restructuring the team for the upcoming 2014 season.
During a flurry of activity that spanned a little over a week in mid-December, the Sounders traded three and released four players while acquiring six. Gone are the familiar names of Mauro Rosales, Michael Gspurning, Steve Zakuani and Eddie Johnson, as well as bit part players in Adam Moffat, Blair Gavin and Marc Burch. Brought in are goalkeeper Stefan Frei, forwards Tristan Bowen, Kenny Cooper, Chad Barrett, Corey Hertzog, and defender Chad Marshall.
The main problem with these moves is that the Sounders are now overloaded with mediocre forwards when what they really need are solid defenders and midfielders.
Although only 23, Hertzog arrives at one of the biggest clubs in the country with only one MLS goal to his name. The numbers aren’t much better for Bowen, who has four goals in fifty games for Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy.
On the other hand, Barrett, 28, and Cooper, 29, are the type of experienced, goal scoring forwards that the Sounders brought in to form a partnership with Martins. Cooper, who has loads of European experience having played in England, Portugal and Germany, will likely play a hold up forward role where he can use his size to win headers and lay balls off for Dempsey and Evans coming forward.
However, I am not convinced that Cooper can be as successful as Johnson was for the Sounders. Although he may not have been the most liked player on the Sounders, he was without a doubt one of the most dangerous. Losing his aerial presence and willingness to take defenders on and create goal scoring opportunities will be sorely missed.
Where the Sounders did make noticeable improvements are the pick ups of Frei and Marshall.
Toward the end of the season, Gspurning made a number of errors in big games that cost the Sounders precious points, and none more jaw dropping than his straight red card in the Western Conference Knockout Round game against the Colorado Rapids. He will not be missed much with the arrival of the younger and more sound Frei.
An experienced defender with over 250 MLS appearances, Marshall won back-to-back MLS Defender of the Year awards in 2008 and 2009, and will challenge Jhon Kennedy Hurtado for his spot at central defender. The normally solid Colombian’s lack of consistency and shaky decision making came under scrutiny this year, and he will have to fight hard to keep his starting spot.
There is still a long way to go until the MLS resumes play in March, and chances are that the Sounders will have a few more deals lined up before opening the season at home in front of the 40,000 screaming Seattleites.