2014 MLS Season Preview: Will Offseason Changes Lift Seattle Sounders To New Heights?
When the regular season began for the Seattle Sounders FC in March of 2013, the team admitted that they were not complete. Sure, they had picked up some pieces to their puzzle in DeAndre Yedlin, Lamar Neagle and Djimi Traore, but they still lacked someone to play alongside Eddie Johnson now that Fredy Montero was on loan overseas.
Over the course of the season, Seattle would add Nigerian international Obafemi Martins and United States captain Clint Dempsey to the squad. The consistent jumbling of chemistry was evident during the most crucial times of the season, with Seattle having a record of 0-3-7 in the first five and last five games of the regular season. Seattle scored five goals and allowed 18 during that time frame. Seattle’s record during the rest of the season was 15-4-5 with 37 goals scored and 24 allowed.
The Sounders were leading the race for the Supporters’ Shield after their 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake; they were at 49 points with seven matches to go and had at least one game in hand on all competitors except for the Montreal Impact. Then like the Impact, Seattle went cold, earning just three points from the last seven matches to drop into fourth in the West, eventually being knocked out of the postseason by the rival Portland Timbers.
The 2014 Seattle Sounders attack is the best that the team has had since joining MLS in 2009. They did lose Johnson to a trade with DC United in December, but the move was for the best according to those close to the team. Replacing EJ will be former FC Dallas striker Kenny Cooper, who the Sounders acquired in December for midfielder Adam Moffat.
The addition of Cooper is a huge one for Seattle, as Cooper stands 6-foot-3 and should contend for more crosses than the 5-foot-8 Martins would. Another motivation for Cooper will be that he is suiting up for his sixth different team in the last six seasons, which includes stops in Germany and England before returning to MLS in 2011. Seattle fans will hope to see the Cooper which scored 18 league goals for the New York Red Bulls in 2012.
The biggest single move made by Seattle was trading captain Mauro Rosales to Chivas USA for Tristan Bowen and the second spot in the MLS allocation order. Rosales became expendable when Seattle rewarded Osvaldo Alonso with the club’s third DP contract. When the Philadelphia Union used the top allocation spot for Maurice Edu, Seattle did not wait long to sign former Chicago Fire midfielder Marco Pappa to fill the void left on the left side.
It does not look like Seattle is done adding to the midfield yet as they traded Alex Caskey to DC United on Tuesday, leaving open six roster spots with six trialists still remaining with the club. There have also been rumors linking the Sounders to Costa Rican international Jose Miguel Cubero of Herediano. Cubero plays in the central midfield, and likely would have relegated Caskey to even less playing time than he received in 2013.
The central defense was another targeted area of improvement for Seattle during the offseason, which started with the acquisition of Chad Marshall from the Columbus Crew on December 12. This move created a logjam of players in the central defense with Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Patrick Ianni and Djimi Traore all under contract.
That pressure was relieved when Seattle traded Hurtado and Ianni to Chicago for 25-year-old Jalil Anibaba. Marshall and Anibaba look to be the favorites to start in the center of defense with returning players Leo Gonzalez and DeAndre Yedlin starting at the wingback positions.
Seattle also made a big change in goal getting rid of Michael Gspurning after his late-season struggles. They brought in former Toronto FC keeper Stefan Frei and re-signed veteran Marcus Hahnemann. Schmid has not come out and named the starter just yet but all indications are that Frei will get the nod.
This season is MLS Cup or bust for Sigi Schmid and company. The club was in a prime position last season to make a run at the trophy until the late-season collapse. With fans calling for a managerial change after last year, it seems like anything less than a championship will signal the end for Schmid in the Emerald City.
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