2012 Seattle Sounders Preview: There for the taking
MLSsoccer.com is previewing each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2011 and ending with the league's newest addition, the Montreal Impact. This is part one of two previewing Seattle's 2012 season. You can find Part 2 here.
Setting the Scene
It was another successful year for the Seattle Sounders ... if you forget about that little blip at the end. A third consecutive first-round MLS Cup Playoffs exit – this time at the hands of Real Salt Lake – placed a tinge of disappointment on an otherwise glorious campaign.
2011 Seattle Goals
In their third year in Major League Soccer, Seattle finished second in the Supporters' Shield race, claimed their third straight US Open Cup and advanced to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. Oh, and Sounders fans broke their own record for attendance. Again.
An influx of pedigreed veterans and physicality gifted newcomers should make Seattle incrementally better in 2012. But will it be enough to hoist MLS Cup?
In and Out
IN: G Michael Gspurning (12/7: free/Skoda Xanthi); D Marc Burch (12/12: Re-Entry Stage 2/D.C. United); D Adam Johansson (12/29: free/Göteborg); M Christian Sivebaek (1/11: free/Midtjylland); D Andrew Duran (1/12: SuperDraft); F Babayele Sodade (1/12: SuperDraft); D Tim Pontius (1/17: supplemental draft); M Andy Rose (1/17: trade from Real Salt Lake); F Cordell Cato (1/18: free/Defence Force FC); F Eddie Johnson (2/17: trade from Montreal); G Andrew Weber (3/2: free)
OUT: G Kasey Keller (11/2: retired); D James Riley (11/23: to Chivas USA, via expansion draft); D Tyson Wahl (11/23: trade to Montreal); GK Terry Boss (12/2: retired); D Taylor Graham (12/2, retired); F Nate Jaqua (12/12: Re-Entry Stage 2/New England); F Pat Noonan (12/12: Re-Entry Stage 2/LA Galaxy); M Erik Friberg (12/12: transfer/Malmö); F Mike Fucito (2/17: trade to Montreal); M Lamar Neagle (2/17: trade to Montreal)
Star Attraction: Fredy Montero
It’s a group effort in Seattle, but no individual player stands to benefit more than Montero. Acclaimed by some as an MVP candidate last preseason, Montero once again enters the season as the fulcrum of the Sounders’ potent offense. The team brought in Eddie Johnson to partner him up front – meaning that Montero has a chance to dish out the assists as well as rack up his fourth consecutive double-digit goal tally.
Unsung Hero: Jeff Parke
Enough has been written about Osvaldo Alonso that he can no longer be considered unsung, so we look to Jeff Parke to fill that void (pictured right). In January, Parke finally got his look with the US national team. Cast off by the New York Red Bulls in 2008 after testing positive for a banned substance – from a supplement the player said he got over the counter – Parke wandered the soccer backstreets for two years before signing with Seattle. An MLS Cup would be the perfect end to this tale of redemption.
Ready for Primetime: Eddie Johnson
EJ has certainly had his detractors, but he hasn’t always had patrons. He’s found one in Seattle technical director Chris Henderson, who ran point on the trade that brought Johnson into the fold. Henderson was an assistant coach during Johnson’s best year as a professional, a 15-goal campaign in 2007 with Kansas City.
Seattle bet a great deal that the former Fulham man is still a dynamo, sending two promising young players (Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle) to Montreal to acquire his services. Only time will tell if he’s up to the task.
Storylines to Watch
1. Can Eddie Johnson find the form that helped him jump to the EPL? There’s no telling what a motivated Johnson (pictured right) could do. With crosses coming in from Mauro Rosales, Álvaro Fernández and, eventually, Steve Zakuani, there will be plenty of chances for Johnson to find the net in 2012. Still relatively young at 27 years old, Johnson has experienced adversity after a series of loan spells in Europe and a failure to catch on in Mexico. How he responds to those setbacks may very well color Seattle’s fortunes in 2012.
2. Is a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup in the offing? The club’s initial five-year plan had the team facing off against the globe’s best in the in the Club World Cup. Once a far-off dream, that goal is within reach now with Seattle entering the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. The stakes are clear – but can the Sounders come together to manufacture the actual performances needed to seize the automatic berth that comes with the CCL title?
3. Will Seattle’s increased athleticism make a difference? If there’s any difference between this Sounders roster and that of past editions, it is athleticism. Gone are aging veterans Pat Noonan and Nate Jaqua, replaced by players like Christian Sivebaek and Cordell Cato. Fans will be taken aback by the quickness of Cato, while Sivebaek’s great size and speed will make him a tough matchup for tired defenders. The additions of these two may give Seattle an extra edge off the bench to turn the tides of a close match.
What He Said
“I’ve had a chance to work with Eddie now for three or four days – you’re surprised that his touch is very, very good. His timing as to when he opens up is very good. I think when we get him on the field together with Fredy Montero, I think they’re going to be a very good combination.”
– Seattle manager Sigi Schmid (pictured right) to reporters on February 27
If Everything Goes Right
It’s all there for the taking. CCL, MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield – nothing is out of reach for this Sounders team. However, Bruce Arena’s LA Galaxy squad stands firmly in the way of all three goals.
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