When the Seattle Sounders’ 2013 season ended Thursday, off-season planning for 2014 began.
High-profile and high-priced designated player such as Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins had been brought in to get the Sounders beyond the Western Conference finals, where their previous season had ended.
Instead, Portland’s 5-3 aggregate victory sent the Sounders out in the semifinal round — same as the clubs from 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Changes are certain to follow that disappointing end, and the top off-season issue among media and fans concerns whether coach Sigi Schmid will get his wish to return for a sixth season.
“I don’t want to walk away,” he said. “I know there are probably people out there who would like me to walk away. The press — you guys like that. It’s a situation of I think there’s a good base of talent … but there’s improvements and changes that we have to make. At the end of the day, my job security is really in the hands of (general manager Adrian Hanauer and majority owner) Joe Roth. … I feel secure. But you have to ask them.”
Hanauer declined to be interviewed after the match.
Last month, as Seattle’s regular season was coming to a bumpy end, Roth told national media that he didn’t believe Schmid was the problem. Soon after, Hanauer told local media that staff, front office and player decisions will be made after an off-season review.
Schmid indicated that would begin almost instantly.
“We’ll meet with players at the end of the season — the end of the season is now — talk to them, and we’re going to make our plans for next year,” he said. “Every year the group changes a bit, so they’ll be some changes in the group again. We’ve got to become a little more consistent than we were.”
The 2013 season played out in a bell curve. The Sounders went winless over their first five games, and then climbed all the way to the top of MLS before ending with just one win over their final 10 matches, including the first- and second-leg losses to Portland that ended the season.
Schmid cited the parade of injuries and international call-ups that prevented the Sounders from getting their first-choice 11 onto the field together. Seattle used 36 lineups over its 37 MLS games. Dempsey, Martins and goals-leader Eddie Johnson shared the pitch for a total of 56 minutes — 41 of those coming Thursday after the Sounders had fallen four aggregate goals down.
“The roles for people were changing,” Schmid said. “The roles for people (Thursday) in the game changed. I think (Brad) Evans played three different positions during the game. And all that makes it tough.”
The Sounders’ high point stretched from Aug. 3 to Sept. 13. On the first date, Dempsey was brought in as the highest-paid player in MLS. On the latter date, the club reached the top of the MLS standings. However, Seattle went winless through the remaining seven games of the regular season, and Dempsey’s statistical contributions were limited to one goal in the regular season and one assist in the playoffs.
“He came in with no preseason and trying to find his rhythm and trying to catch his game as well,” Schmid said. “… Having to change from game to game made it difficult. But he’ll have a much better season next year, and he’ll be the player that we all know he is.”
Other top off-season decisions will include what to do with Eddie Johnson, Seattle’s goals leader who complained during the season about salary, and whom Schmid and Hanauer have agreed deserves a raise. If it takes a DP slot to provide it, that would add questions about the fates of current DPs Mauro Rosales and perhaps Martins.
Brad Evans also could be difficult to retain. His contract is up at a time when his star is soaring with the U.S. national team. There also could be decisions regarding goalkeepers Michael Gspurning and Marcus Hahnemann and veteran central defenders Djimi Traore, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni.
“I think we have some pieces,” Schmid said. “I think we have to add some.”