A Sounders New Year — A Short Recap and Brief Look Forward

The holidays are over, the fruit cake baskets that seemingly follow us around have all finally stopped coming, and the feeling that we all missed out on something that was special or unique to our childhood where we are now “oh, so busy to experience” has passed. And if you’re the unlucky type that is forced to deal with the cliché of dreaded in-laws, they most likely have made their way back to whatever hole they crawled out of.

With all of that time that we took away from the Sounders, there is still very little to really talk about. There was news that the Sounders officially signed Kenny Cooper, which if you were comatose during the holidays you may have missed. Though you could probably file that under expected news. How much he signed for is obviously kept under wraps for the time being, though considering his performance last year, it’s expected to be considerably less than what it was in 2013.

I go back and forth on his acquisition on a daily basis. Part of me thinks this is a step only slightly above having Shalrie Joseph return to forward next season. On the flip side, you also have to consider that Cooper is still someone that has managed to score 72 goals in his Major League Soccer career. Just note — the quantity of goals doesn’t necessarily imply quality, but it doesn’t rule it out either. There is a lot that I could add to that thought, and others could as well, but let’s just acknowledge for now  that he’s been added to the Sounders roster for use in the 2014 season.

There is also a mention of something with lesser substance though it seems to be gaining traction. The rumor that  Mario Martinez could, and very well may, re-join the Sounders in 2014. It’s an interesting development, as his form with the Honduras national team and his club team España has been top shelf of late. Yet, despite all of what he’s accomplished away from MLS, he never really seem to “click” with either of the 2012 or 2013 squads. He seemed perpetually on the verge of being something, yet we never figured out what that something was as injuries and lack of playing time made his stay a fleeting one. It’s not to say that he didn’t have some great performances, though he still never got to a point where the club or Sigi felt they needed him on the pitch as a difference-maker—a role that we all felt would eventually sprout from him.

His place in the line-up could be interesting because I’m not sure where he fits into the roster. I believe the Sounders long for him to be a wide player, but part of me is scared that he becomes another Christian Tiffert in the sense that he is possibly better suited to an attacking centralized position. Hey! That’s basically where Dempsey is looking to be positioned.

The counter argument is the lack of immediate depth behind Dempsey at that central creative position. Something the Sounders obviously are in need of if they intend to deploy the same diamond midfield they used toward the end of the season. Adding him would help solve the dilemma of the lack of creativity within the midfield. Yet it seemingly could provoke more questions as to how this roster is being shaped and how they intend to use the pieces that they’ve put together to their fullest. Below is how the Sounders squad is shaped as of today:

Position Player Name
Goalkeeper Josh Ford
  Stefan Frei
  Marcus Hahnemann
Right Back DeAndre Yedlin
  Zach Scott
  Dylan Remick
Center Back Jhon Kennedy Hurtado
  Patrick Ianni
  Chad Marshall
  Zach Scott
  Djimi Traore
Left Back Leo Gonzalez
  Dylan Remick
Right Midfield Clint Dempsey
  Brad Evans
  David Estrada
  Lamar Neagle
Center Midfield Osvaldo Alonso
  Brad Evans
  Blair Gavin
  Shalrie Joseph
  Andy Rose
  Clint Dempsey
Left Midfield Alex Caskey
  Brad Evans
  Lamar Neagle
Forwards Will Bates
  Kenny Cooper
  Clint Dempsey
  David Estrada
  Obafemi Martins
  Lamar Neagle
  Eriq Zavaleta

Admittedly, because I’m lazy, I just went ahead and stole this from the Sounders official website who put together a nice listing of the players available in the positions in which they “see” them playing in 2014. Again, one notices that the Sounders don’t have a lot of wide options. Obviously Evans, Neagle and Dempsey all can feature as wingers as well as central figures. I don’t personally think that any of them are naturally gifted positioned on the outside and I tend to believe that this is a roster that still missing two important pieces, Mario Martinez notwithstanding.

There is a lot to be done in 2014, and I’m not entirely certain that the Sounders are going to be as complete as Adrian Hanuaer hopes by the start of training camp. That said, their club isn’t as far away as some might think.

I get the general feeling that supporters are approaching the squad this year with a trepidation that is usually reserved for a club that hangs consistently on the fringes of European relegation, rather than one that constantly proves itself in the upper echelon for the league in which it contends. Despite the loss of Mauro Rosales, Eddie Johnson and Steve Zakuani, they have pieces at their disposal that they didn’t have over the length of their entire season in 2013.

We know Dempsey can score goals—they will come—but he also had the second-best rate of Key Passes per 90 minutes on the team, just behind Rosales. Eddie Johnson seems a loss that is perhaps unparalleled, but a full season of Martins has the potential to make at least some of that up. Zakuani, who is a special talent when healthy, has not been a central figure on this club for 3 seasons, and his position has seemingly fallen to Lamar Neagle. Neagle was a dynamic figure last season, being featured in an attacking forward role, whose rugged play style and engine created scoring opportunities, enabling him to not just get into positive scoring positions but also show that he could finish those chances.

It’s disappointing to some to see these individuals walk away from the club, but this is a roster that—despite those two aforementioned pieces—is ready to compete. This seems like a post that is filled with a lot of quasi “rah rah shish boom bah” that makes it seem as though I think that the past season was just fine.

I understand that everyone wants an MLS Cup; I do too. But I think that with MLS being as parity-driven as it is, the Sounders need more of the “right” pieces than they need of the best pieces. You know, the undervalued pieces that fly under the radar. That’s merely an opinion and not necessarily one driven by a community of supporters or even based upon an ideology that is commonly associated with our club.

A common topic this off-season is the quality that many would like to see added to the club, but there is little mention about how they fit into the lineup. The problem as I see it is that we all want ‘player x’ or ‘player y’ without really knowing how this front office is putting together a roster, or how Sigi intends to use them. We can acquire the Mauro Rosaleses and Clint Dempseys of the world, but it all depends upon they decide to issue them to the starting XI. This isn’t baseball; you can’t just stack up Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Edgar Martinez next to each other and let them all have and equal number of opportunities.

I believe this is going to be a club that is built in a specific capacity to serve Sigi in a manner that may not be comparable to seasons past. Decisions will likely be made in a unique, system-driven approach. I actually like this idea, and I think when you look at the teams that have been successful in the last few years, that’s how they’ve built their rosters. The Galaxy, Timbers, RSL, Sporting KC and the Houston Dyanmo have all created a system-driven approach, though not necessarily derived from a standard formation.

2014 has just been born, and there is a lot to that we’ve yet to see culminate for this season. It’s hard to be patient, and it’s easy to see why a lot of supporters are concerned going into the year. But let’s not forget what this coaching staff and front office has done for this club: a string of playoff runs while acquiring prime talent and putting forward a fun and entertaining product on the field. That’s not half bad.

There are a lot of teams that are jealous of us and legitimately despise us for what our club has accomplished in a very short time span. I’m not about blind trust but let’s see what this organization brings us with the new year before we cast doubt on the upcoming season.