Sounders confident new faces will bring new fortunes

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comMarch 8, 2014 

The last time fans saw Seattle Sounders FC in Major League Soccer action, the players were walking off the pitch in Portland with a season-ending loss — their sixth defeat over their final eight games.

Sounders management reacted to that disappointing end by largely reworking the roster.

Meanwhile, the surviving players could only wait out their chance to redeem themselves with the coming of a new season.

That wait ends Saturday, as the Sounders open their sixth MLS season at noon in a nationally televised game against defending MLS Cup champion Sporting Kansas City.

“I think (the players) have been waiting for the start of the season since the end of last season,” coach Sigi Schmid said Friday. “ ... I think all of our guys who were with us last year realize that that wasn’t a true reflection of what they’re all about. ... And what you want to do as a player when you have a season end like that is you just want the next season to start.”

Fewer than half of the Sounders who started that final match of 2013 remain with the club: defenders DeAndre Yedlin and Djimi Traore, and midfielders Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso and Clint Dempsey.

Dempsey participated in his first training session

Friday in Seattle after spending two months on loan with Fulham of the English Premier League and with the U.S. national team.

Despite that busy playing and travel schedule, Schmid said Dempsey would be in uniform Saturday.

Dempsey said he would be ready for any role assigned.

“I feel good,” Dempsey said. “It was good for me to go over and get some fitness. I was coming off injuries and felt like I was able to go over there and get some good minutes. My body feels good, and it’s about hitting the ground running here.”

Dempsey also quickly noticed how many of his teammates from last season are no longer in Seattle.

During the offseason, the Sounders shed key players such as leading goal scorer Eddie Johnson, starting goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, captain Mauro Rosales and defenders Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni, both of whom had been in Seattle since the 2009 expansion season.

“Some new faces,” Dempsey said. “I’d like to think that the squad has gotten stronger. We just have to wait and see.”

The Sounders added veterans on every part of the pitch. At forward is Kenny Cooper, who has had two 18-goal seasons in MLS. At midfield is Marco Pappa, a former MLS All-Star with 30 caps for the Guatemala national team. At center back is Chad Marshall, the MLS defender of the year in 2008 and 2009.

And in goal is Stefan Frei, who the Sounders believe has qualities not reflected in his 1.52 goals-against average over five seasons with Toronto FC.

“I don’t look at the statistics,” Schmid said. “ ... The one big thing that I look for is his presence: What kind of presence does a goalkeeper have? Does he look like a goalkeeper? Does he smell like a goalkeeper? Does he act like a goalkeeper? That, for me, is very important.”

Seattle remained among the 2013 Supporters’ Shield contenders into mid-September but fell out of the race by going winless over its final seven regular-season games.

The Sounders believe they have improved on the pitch and in the locker room this year. However, Schmid cautioned that the 18 other MLS teams might feel the same way about themselves — and many with good reason.

“The league improves year after year, always gets tougher,” he said. “Certainly when you look at the West, you look at certain additions that Vancouver made to their squad, you look at the additions that Portland’s made, you look at the additions that L.A.’s made — those are obviously some pretty formidable situations. ...

“You can’t sit back and rest on what you’ve accomplished. You’ve got to continue to grow and improve, and I think we’re doing that.”

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt

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