By John Boyle Herald Writer
TUKWILA — The Seattle Sounders spent much of the 2014 offseason overhauling their roster.
Now fans start finding out if it worked.
After a late-season collapse nearly kept the Sounders out of the playoffs — where they again fell short of their championship goals — Seattle’s front office was faced with a conundrum. The team could keep head coach Sigi Schmid, a proven winner who won a title with Columbus and has led the Sounders to the playoffs in all five of their seasons in Major League Soccer, or fire the only coach the franchise has known in the hopes that new blood could get them over the hump in the playoffs.
And when Sounders ownership came to the conclusion that Schmid wasn’t the problem, that meant figuring out what was wrong with a talented roster that had a Jekyll-and-Hyde 2013 season. Basically, the Sounders couldn’t choose to keep Schmid and leave the roster largely intact, not after that finish to the season. Status quo wasn’t cutting it, so with Schmid still here, many key players from Seattle’s past are not.
Gone are regulars like Eddie Johnson, Michael Gspurning, Mauro Rosales and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. Key new additions have been brought in like Kenny Cooper, Chad Marshall, Stefan Frei and Marco Pappa.
The Sounders are certainly different than the team that walked off the field in November after a playoff loss in Portland, but are they better? Starting with today’s opener against defending champion Sporting Kansas City, fans are going to start finding out.
“We’re Seattle, we’re unconventional,” Schmid said. “We weren’t a conventional expansion team … It’s the same thing here; we’re not a team that’s going to rebuild. We felt we needed to make some moves and change some things as we approach the game, but from the standpoint of, are our expectations any less? No, our expectations aren’t less.
“I know that puts a lot of pressure on the players, puts a lot of pressure on myself and the rest of the staff, but that’s the way we like it. We’re always going to try to achieve the best.”
Schmid and his players are confident that all the off-season change will lead to an improved team in 2014. By identifying a nucleus that included designated players Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Osvaldo Alonso, as well as players like Brad Evans, Lamar Neagle and DeAndre Yedlin, then shaking things up around them, there is hope this version of the Sounders can be the one that finally wins an MLS title.
“I feel great, very confident in this team,” Yedlin said. “There’s a lot of new faces, but they’re all great players. We’re still trying to work together and mold together, and that takes time, but once we get that done, we’re going to be a team that’s hard to beat.”
Last year, the Sounders and Schmid talked about the pressure being on after four consecutive years of playoff disappointment. At one point last summer, the Sounders looked like they were on their way to the league’s best record — right up until they starting loosing at a franchise-record rate.
Schmid kept his job in Seattle, many of his players didn’t and now everyone knows that 2014 needs to be the season when that big roster shakeup pays off. It starts today when a team that is still learning how to play together will try to start off fast in order to erase the memories of 2013.
“If we don’t get a result in the first one or two games, it’s going to be tough,” Evans said.
“So for us it’s, get off to a good start. I think we’ve really got the guys to really make a push, and they’re all good guys. I just want this club to do well, and I think we can.”
On paper, it’s hard to say whether or not the Sounders are actually more talented with all the moves they made.
Johnson, the leading scorer the past two seasons, is gone, as is Rosales, who holds the club record for assists in a season. The hope is that this year’s team has improved chemistry — something Schmid, players and general manager Adrian Hanauer have admitted wasn’t great at times a year ago. The hope is that improved team chemistry can be the ingredient that turns a talented team into a championship one.
It might work, it might not. Either way, the Sounders are just happy to be putting the memories of last year’s collapse in the rearview mirror.
“They’ve been waiting for the start of this season since the end of last season,” Schmid said of his players. “… All of our guys who were with us last year realize that that wasn’t the true reflection of what they’re all about. All you want to do as a player when you have a season end like that is have the next season start so you can get going again and put that in the background, because we’re not going to stop talking about last season until we play our first game this year, so let’s get that over with and move forward.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.