Seattle, WA (SportsNetwork.com) - In its six-year MLS history, Seattle
Sounders FC has operated as a model franchise.
The Sounders have made the playoffs every year since they came into the league
in 2009 and last season was no exception.
The club started slowly, but picked up the pace as the season wore on,
eventually rising to the top of the Western Conference by August thanks to a
run of eight wins in nine games.
But following a 2-0 victory over Real Salt Lake on September 8, Seattle
embarked on a franchise-worst seven-game winless streak that included a 5-1
loss to Colorado followed by a 4-1 defeat against Vancouver at home.
Seattle did well enough earlier in the season to withstand the lengthy winless
run and finished fourth in the West with a 15-12-7 record for 52 points. But
the team ran up against the Portland Timbers and lost in the conference
Head coach Sigi Schmid will be on the hottest seat in the league this season
if the club gets off to a slow start, but he is dealing with a fairly high
amount of roster turnover.
In attack, Seattle has a pair of bona-fide superstars in Obafemi Martins and
United States national team captain Clint Dempsey. Former leading scorer Eddie
Johnson left via trade, but was replaced by Kenny Cooper.
Both Dempsey and Martins had some struggles with injury last season, but if
they are healthy and can work together with Cooper, Seattle's attack should be
Dempsey will have to pull the strings in his attacking midfield role and make
sure he involves Martins as well as Cooper for the Sounders to be successful.
In the midfield, Osvaldo Alonso remains the club's most important player,
along with newcomer Marco Pappa and Brad Evans out wide. Alonso is the
midfield destroyer and should be able to boss the game defensively. He'll need
to improve his offensive production and hone his leadership skills in order to
make sure that collapses like last season don't happen again.
Pappa, a former Chicago Fire player, was acquired by the Sounders via the
league's allocation process, coming over from SC Heerenveen in the Dutch
Prior to going to Europe, Pappa was a mainstay with the Chicago Fire, scoring
26 goals and adding 16 assists over 112 appearances. He's also been capped 30
times by Guatemala.
"Marco is a proven and established player who has been very productive in this
league," Sounders sporting director Chris Henderson said. "He has the
technical quality to create chances for himself and his teammates at any
moment, and is a high-character guy who brings excitement and quality to our
Pappa will need to regain the form he found in MLS in 2012 as he replaces
Mauro Rosales in the midfield as Rosales moved on to Chivas USA.
There will be some new faces along the back line this season, starting in
goal, where former Toronto FC man Stefan Frei will be between the sticks in
place of Michael Gspurning, whose option was declined following last season.
Frei has had a solid career, but suffered a broken wrist and lost his starting
spot in Toronto to Joe Bendik. Frei will be motivated to prove he can still
play at a high level after missing so much time due to injury.
Along the defense, there will be some new faces with a central defense pairing
of Jalil Anibaba and Chad Marshall along with Leo Gonzalez at left back and
DeAndre Yedlin at right back.
Anibaba comes over from Chicago, where he started every game, but the Fire
conceded the third-most goals in the league last season, while Marshall
arrives from Columbus, where he played for Schmid in 2008 when the Crew won
MLS Cup and the Supporters' Shield.
But the years haven't been kind to Marshall since 2009. He hasn't been nearly
as good and, consequently, has watched the Crew continue to slide down the
table. In order for the Sounders defense to improve this season, Marshall will
have to have a career renaissance under Schmid.
Schmid's seat will be awfully hot if the new faces fail to jell early on and
the club gets off to a slow start, but they have the pieces in attack and
midfield to paper over the cracks of a slow back line and fight for a playoff
ACQUISITIONS: Stefan Frei (GK), Chad Marshall (D), Jalil Anibaba (D), Kenny
Cooper (F), Marco Pappa (M), Chad Barrett (F), Corey Hertzog (F), Damien Lowe
LOSSES: Michael Gspurning (GK), Mauro Rosales (M), Adam Moffat (M), Eddie
Johnson (F), Jhon-Kennedy Hurtado (D), Patrick Ianni (D), Alex Caskey (M).
OUTLOOK: Dempsey struggled with injuries when he arrived in Seattle from
Tottenham, but will have to be in top form all season to drive the Seattle
attack with Cooper and Martins. Alonso anchors a strong midfield, but the
questions will come in the back with an aging Marshall and Anibaba. Lamar
Neagle will help the attack off the bench looking to build on his career-
best eight goals from last season. Seattle has the pieces to reach the
postseason for a sixth straight season, but it will be how those pieces come
together that determines whether the Sounders can compete in a difficult
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