SEATTLE — With his team preparing to start a new season following yet another disappointing early exit from the playoffs, Sigi Schmid made it clear that more was expected in the upcoming season.
“This is the year that if we don’t accomplish some of the things that we feel we can accomplish, then you have to start looking at breaking up that core,” the Sounders FC coach said.
And if that sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Schmid said it prior to the 2011 season.
Seattle went on to have a very successful season in 2011, posting the second-best record in league, winning another U.S. Open Cup, and smashing its own attendance records. But just like in 2009 and 2010, Sounders FC failed to advance past its first playoff series.
And just like Schmid promised a little over a year ago, significant change did come this offseason. When Sounders FC plays its regular-season opener tonight at CenturyLink Field, the team will look quite a bit different than it did last season.
The change came not so much because Schmid or general manager Adrian Hanauer felt it was necessary to clean house, but rather for a variety of reasons, some of the team’s choosing, and some of which were out of its control. Goalkeeper Kasey Keller, Seattle’s captain the past three years, retired; James Riley, the starting right back for three seasons, was selected in the expansion draft when Seattle left him unprotected; Seattle declined a club option on forward Nate Jaqua, who while not a regular starter, was a big part of the franchise’s early success; Tyson Wahl, the starting left back for most of last season, was traded to Montreal; midfielder Erik Friberg returned to Sweden; and key reserves and fan favorites Michael Fucito and Lamar Neagle were traded for forward Eddie Johnson.
Along with Johnson, who will start at forward once he’s healthy, Seattle added a handful of other new faces who will play key roles this season. Austrian goalkeeper Michael Gspurning will have the biggest shoes to fill, taking over for Keller, and Seattle’s other new starter will be right back Adam Johansson, who has spent his entire professional career in his native Sweden. Seattle also added Danish midfielder Christian Sivebaek, who has looked impressive in the preseason and may eventually force Schmid to find more playing time for him.
Yet despite all the change, Schmid isn’t worried about this team coming together for the start of the season. After all, for all the roster turnover that took place, Seattle still has plenty of its nucleus intact. Starters Fredy Montero, Osvaldo Alonso, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Brad Evans have all been here since the franchise started in 2009, while Jeff Parke is entering his third season with the club. And despite having been on the roster for only a year, midfielder Mauro Rosales has become a key leader in addition to being one of the team’s best players.
“It’s not as big a challenge because there’s a core that’s here,” Schmid said. “When you’re starting a team that first year, everybody’s new and you’re trying to establish your core. A lot of players that were in that — certainly Kasey Keller played a very vital role in that — guys like Nate Jaqua and Pat Noonan when they joined our team, and Peter Vagenas, veteran players helped us establish the core and establish the culture that I wanted to create and we wanted to create as a club. … Obviously, those players move on for various reasons, now we have a new core. There’s now the Alonsos, the Monteros, the Evans, the Hurtados, and Parkes. There are guys that are here that know what it means to be a Sounder.”
And those returning core players, as well as the new ones, are all aware that expectations are sky high this season. It’s hard to describe Seattle’s first three years as anything but a massive success — playoffs every year, three straight U.S. Open Cup titles, attendance that dwarfs the rest of the teams in the league — but the playoff letdowns still hang over the team. That’s something, beginning with the season opener today, players hope to make right in 2012.
“We’ve talked about it, even last year, that we didn’t have the results that we wanted to, so obviously we need to build on what we’ve done in the past,” Evans said. “Obviously we’re happy with what we’ve done in the past, but it’s not good enough. It’s a club from top to bottom that wants to do better and we want to see more trophies and more victories.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.