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Expansion Sounders optimistic about success

  • Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller makes a stop during training camp Jan. 21 in Renton. Keller will be in goal tonight when the Sounders make th...

    Associated Press

    Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller makes a stop during training camp Jan. 21 in Renton. Keller will be in goal tonight when the Sounders make their Major League Soccer debut against the New York Red Bulls at Qwest Field.

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By Rich Myhre
Herald Writer
Published:
  • Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller makes a stop during training camp Jan. 21 in Renton. Keller will be in goal tonight when the Sounders make th...

    Associated Press

    Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller makes a stop during training camp Jan. 21 in Renton. Keller will be in goal tonight when the Sounders make their Major League Soccer debut against the New York Red Bulls at Qwest Field.

SEATTLE -- As a rule, expansion teams in major professional sports are terrible.
With rosters comprised mostly of castoffs and wannabes, they are usually only good at one thing -- losing. It sometimes takes years before an influx of fresh talent can turn the once-hapless beginning franchise into a contender.
As a rule, that's how it works. But it's a rule the Seattle Sounders FC expects to break.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that this will be different," said Adrian Hanauer, the general manager and a co-owner of Seattle's first-year Major League Soccer team.
"It was never discussed, nor did I ever think to myself, 'We've got time, so this can be two-, three- or four-year process to build a competitive team.' I'm too competitive. It would be too painful for me to watch two or three years of losing soccer," he said.
The Sounders, who open their inaugural season at 6 p.m. today against the New York Red Bulls at Qwest Field, hope to shortcut the usual expansion-team timetable to respectability.
"We would like our (competitiveness) to be immediate," said Sigi Schmid, the team's head coach. "We don't want it to be a long process at all."
There are, Schmid explained, four ways to build a new MLS team. Players can be acquired through the league's expansion draft, the college draft, from foreign teams and as discovery players, which are essentially free agents.
If the Sounders "hit on three of those four, we'll be in the ballpark right away," Schmid said. "And if we hit on all four, then we've got a good chance to be competitive right away."
Many of the Sounders were with other MLS teams in recent seasons and several of those were acquired in the Nov. 26 expansion draft. Others were promoted after playing with the Seattle Sounders of the USL First Division last season. Still others were signed at different times over the last year.
One of the first and most important signings was goalkeeper Kasey Keller, an Olympia native who has played at the highest levels of international soccer for most of the last two decades. Keller is 39 and in the final few years of his playing career, but is still one of the top goalies in the game -- and a hometown hero to boot.
Backing up Keller for today's season opener will be Ben Dragavon, who played at Monroe High School and Western Washington University. The Sounders called up Dragavon on Wednesday because backup goalkeeper Chris Eylander is still recovering from a knee injury. Dragavon, 25, is a member of the MLS pool of goalkeepers, and he has been training with Sounders FC since January.
Keller came from England's Premier League, as did Swedish midfielder Freddie Ljungberg, another international star. Sounders fans will get to see Ljungberg sometime this season, but it might not be in the opener as he is still recovering from hip surgery.
One of the team's most promising young players and a likely fan favorite is forward Fredy Montero of Colombia, an exciting offensive threat. Another to watch is forward Steve Zakuani of England, formerly from the Congo, who was Seattle's top pick in the Jan. 15 college draft and the No. 1 selection overall.
The back line, meanwhile, is anchored by veteran MLS defender Tyrone Marshall, who was acquired from Toronto in the expansion draft.
"I think fans can expect very entertaining soccer," Hanauer said. "We have a fast team, we have a creative team and we have a very skillful team. I think we'll have lot of possessions and move the ball around the field well. And more than anything, we'll attack. We might have to have some conversations about being mindful of the defensive side of things as well, but I think we're going to score quite a few goals."
"When you watch this team you can expect attractive soccer," Marshall agreed. "From minute 1 to minute 90 (of a match), you're going to get full effort. I played with Sigi before and that's the type of mentality he wants from his team."
As much as any player, one of the team's biggest assets is probably Schmid, who has been a top college and professional coach for almost 30 years. Schmid won three national championships at UCLA and already has two MLS titles, including the 2008 championship with Columbus.
"We'll be a team that's going to fight every time we step on field," he said. "This team is going to be competitive in every game we walk into. And if we can get some results to go in our direction at the start of the season, that'll help our confidence."
No one in the team's hierarchy is predicting an MLS title this season, but neither does anyone expect the Sounders to be a doormat.
"I think all the pieces are here for us to be different than other expansion teams," said Chris Henderson, the Everett native who is the team's technical director. "For sure, we're going to have some growing pains. We're also going to need some luck along the way. But we've done everything to prepare ourselves and put ourselves in a position to be successful."
"You never know (how the season will unfold)," Hanauer said, "and obviously that's why we play the games. But I'm optimistic that by not conceding defeat before we started the process it'll lead us to better results than maybe a typical expansion team might experience."
Story tags » Sounders FC

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