RENTON — Brad Evans returned from U.S. national team duty to a very different version of the Seattle Sounders than the one he played for last season.
In his mind, a better version.
And while we won’t know until the season starts next month if a roster overhaul leads to an improved on-field product for the Sounders, one thing is already evident to those who did survive Seattle’s offseason shakeup.
“It was a year that we had to make some changes,” Evans said. “And to be honest with you, it’s a better locker room right now than it was in the past.”
It hardly comes as a surprise that the 2014 Sounders will look significantly different than last year’s. General manager Adrian Hanauer said change was coming shortly after another playoff appearance ended short of an MLS Cup, noting a lack of locker-room cohesion, but it was still hard to envision so much change in one offseason.
Gone are many players who were big contributors last year and in the past, including Eddie Johnson, the team’s leading scorer during the past two seasons; midfielder Mauro Rosales, who holds the team record for assists in a season; starting goalkeeper Michael Gspurning; oft-injured but incredibly talented winger Steve Zakuani; and defenders Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni, members of the team dating back to the club’s 2009 inaugural season.
New to the club is a mixture of young players and established MLS veterans like midfielder Marco Pappa, forward Kenny Cooper, defender Chad Marshall and goalkeeper Stefan Frei. They, along with returning core players like Evans, Osvaldo Alonso and Clint Dempsey, will try to help Seattle make the leap from perennial playoff team to champion.
“To be honest, it was time,” Evans said of the roster shakeup. “Every couple years a team is always going to have to go through changes to grow. You get a certain amount of time with a certain group of players, and if you don’t win, you have to change it. Most of time it’s going to be your star players that you try and change and bring them in with other well-known players around the league. That’s just the nature of the game and that’s the business part of it. So it kind of it what it is, and we did lose some big names, and some very good players, but I think we’ve also brought in some great players as well to fill in the shoes. I think the group is a little bit stronger.”
The Sounders lost a lot of talent, but believe the players they added and the improved chemistry can lead to better overall results, though they know a better locker room is only part of the equation.
“That doesn’t always guarantee results, but it might push us through those tough times throughout the season where we might find ourselves in a little bit of a rut, and maybe instead of seven, eight games where we’re kind of commiserating, we find ourselves lifted after two or three games or something like that,” Evans said. “It’s just a little bit different, it’s a little bit different attitude around here, and we hope that that translates into good results.”
Of course the true test of a team’s chemistry comes when times are tough, something that isn’t going to happen during February preseason training. But for now, while the new-look Sounders prepare for their sixth season in Major League Soccer, change appears to be producing positive results.
“I think everybody is just coming out to practice every day and working hard,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said after his team returned to practice at Seahawks headquarters following three weeks of training in Arizona. “There was good spirit in practice. There was good intensity. Everybody’s pulling for each other, everybody’s pushing for each other, and that’s the important thing from our team standpoint.”
Schmid noted that the mix of new players out to prove themselves and returning players motivated to improve on last year’s disappointing finish has created a good balance at practice.
“They’ve raised the level of competition,” he said. “I think the level of competition has been raised in training on a daily basis because of the personalities that we have in terms of where they’re at in their career.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.