In the past week, the Portland Timbers signed Scottish Premier League all-time scoring leader Kris Boyd, the Vancouver Whitecaps traded for former MLS Best XI forward Sebastien Le Toux, and the Los Angeles Galaxy brought back 2010 MLS Golden Boot runner-up Edson Buddle.
That’s a lot of firepower clustered within the Western Conference of Major League Soccer.
“I think the West certainly got tougher,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think the teams in the West – and especially the teams in the Northwest – they’re going to be aggressive, and they want to be successful. They’ve got good, solid fan bases that want to see their team be successful. Vancouver is working hard to enhance their team and improve their team, and Portland obviously is doing the same.”
The Sounders also have been active. However, the most high-profile signings have aimed to fill holes. Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, for example, was brought in to replace Kasey Keller, who retired. And defender Adam Johansson steps in for veteran James Riley, who was lost in the expansion draft.
Other newcomers, such as defender Marc Burch and midfielder Christian Sivebaek, lacked the résumé or name recognition to create much buzz around the league. However, they bring what could prove to be valuable skill and depth to a team with few obvious weaknesses after finishing with the second-best record in MLS last season.
“I think this franchise has a lot of ambitions, and the fans are great,” said Sivebaek. “The facilities are obviously very, very great. (I signed) to have some new motivation; try something new in another country. This was the perfect fit for me.”
Sivebaek started his professional career in 2006, playing in the Danish Superliga and First Division. He also played on the Danish U-18, U-19, U-20 and U-21 national teams.
His early impression is that the level of play in Seattle is comparable to what he experienced overseas.
“I think we could do great in Denmark – I would say top six, maybe, in the Danish League,” he said. “It’s tough to compare, though. There’s a different way we play over here. It’s faster. It’s not as technical as in Denmark. I think that’s the biggest difference, but I think the level is quite similar.”
Sivebaek also made an early impression on Schmid. In addition to his size – 6-foot-3, 195 pounds – Sivebaek was clocked as the fifth-fastest Sounders player in drills.
“Obviously he was very explosive over his first 10 (meters),” Schmid said. “That’s something that we had seen in him, that he’s got a good first step and he’s very dynamic that way. He’s somebody that can certainly provide some options.”
Sivebaek was held out of the Sounders’ training game Monday against Vancouver for precautionary reasons involving a minor knee injury. Gspurning and Johansson were among the starters.
Burch, claimed by Seattle from D.C. United in the MLS re-entry draft, was in the second unit, behind incumbent left back Leo Gonzalez.
“(Schmid) brought me in knowing that I am a left back, and they already have one left back,” Burch said earlier in camp. “So I know Leo and Tyson split some time last year, and it could be the same thing. But you never know with injuries, how teams are playing, momentum. We have a lot of games, so I think there will be opportunities for both of us, and whoever shows the best should be (starting).”
Also hoping to contribute are young additions from the SuperDraft and supplemental draft, as well as international newcomers such as Cordell Cato of Trinidad, and Ever Alvarado and Harlinton Gutierres of Honduras.
“I think every team has tried to raise the bar and obviously make themselves better,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “The teams that didn’t finish so well have the allocation money to work with to build their rosters. . . . When I put my league hat on, I certainly hope that everyone has gotten stronger this year, because it’s just good for our league. We hope that halfway through the year we will be stronger as well.”
The Sounders and Whitecaps each scored one goal over 120 minutes of soccer Monday at Casa Grande, Ariz. Servando Carrasco scored Seattle’s goal in the second 45-minute segment. The Sounders’ starters were Gspurning; defenders Johansson, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Jeff Parke and Gonzalez; midfielders Mauro Rosales, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans and Alvaro Fernandez; and forwards Fredy Montero and Mike Fucito. . . . The Sounders return home today. They will hold one training session Friday at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila before leaving Saturday for training in Florida.