2012 in Review: Seattle Sounders
MLSsoccer.com continues to take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 15-8-11 (56 points); 51 GF / 33 GA (+18 GD)
From the 7-1-1 start to the season to the to nine-game winless run that immediately followed; to a fourth consecutive trip to the US Open Cup to the gut-wrenching loss in a penalty shootout; to the first-ever trip to the Conference Championship to the 3-0 loss in the first leg of that series; the Seattle Sounders endured a roller-coaster ride quite unlike any of their previous three MLS seasons.
In the end, the Sounders were forced to settle for their first trophy-less season. But to call it a total disappointment would be unfair. The Sounders were two points shy of the third-highest point total in the league, had the second-best defense, fifth-best offense and advanced further in the playoffs than they ever had before.
Those achievements still weren’t enough to satisfy the largest fanbase in MLS or one of its most ambitious front offices. Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer hinted at some significant changes this offseason, which could see the breaking up of what has so far been a relatively stable core.
Best Moment of the Year
True life-affirming inspiration does not often emanate from the soccer field, but seeing Steve Zakuani swap jerseys with Brian Mullan on July 7 was pretty special. The moment not only marked Zakuani’s first MLS appearance in more than 14 months, but it also was a clear sign that Zakuani had forgiven the man who broke his leg with a brutal tackle. There may not have been a single dry eye in the stadium that night.
Worst Moment of the Year
Losing any match 3-0 is bound to feel awful. Doing so in a playoff game is obviously much worse. But to have it happen for a second straight year when no team in league history had ever lost the first leg of a playoff series by more than two goals? It’s almost impossible to believe. But that's exactly what happened at the Home Depot Center when the Sounders were blitzed by the eventual champion LA Galaxy. That it came just three days after the Sounders had experienced their playoff breakthrough only served to make the pain even more visceral.
As impressive as Patrick Ianni’s strike against Sporting Kansas City was and as unbelieve as the 35-yard bomb Fredy Montero scored against the Galaxy, the Sounders’ most important goal was Mario Martínez’s game-winner against Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference semifinals. Not only does Martínez receive points for importance, but the degree of difficulty was impressive as well. Striking it first time from a pass from Fredy Montero, the Honduran beat RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando from a sharp angle to send the Sounders through.
Considering Michael Gspurning posted the third-lowest goals-against average in league history, you might assume he came up with some spectacular saves. Truth be told, Gspurning was more about positioning and coming off his line to keep shots from ever happening. As a result, he made many of his saves look easy. The most impressive save, then, belongs to Bryan Meredith, whose acrobatic stop of a Scott Sealy header back on May 9 helped preserve a 2-0 win.
It’s difficult to quantify, but no player has been or continues to be more important to the Sounders’ success than Osvaldo Alonso. The defensive midfielder started to get more involved in the attack this year, while maintaining his status as the elite ball-winner in MLS. As much as any of the backline players, he was responsible for the team allowing the second fewest goals in the league. He was also the Sounders’ most reliable player, leading the team with 30 regular-season starts and 2,688 minutes.
Scoring 14 goals and winning Comeback Player of the Year would seem to make Eddie Johnson the easy pick here, but for our money the most important addition to the team was Gspurning. Stepping into the rather enormous hole left by Kasey Keller’s retirement, Gspurning was the league’s best goalkeeper when healthy. His .73 goals-against average was the best in the league and the Sounders went 12-4-5 in matches he started. He’s also just 31, which means he could be in Seattle for a very long time.
1. Focus on health: The Sounders are among the industry leaders in applying sports science to training habits, yet they were rarely able to field their ideal 11 because of injury. That may have less to do with training habits than it does with gambling on injury prone players, but whatever it is the Sounders must figure out how to keep more of their best players on the field.
2. Make a splash: There’s no need to make a panic signing, but the Sounders front office has openly talked about the need to get more production out of their best players in the biggest games. In four years, they’ve never had one player put the team on their back and carry them to playoff glory. Finding that kind of player is a must. Maybe they are on the roster now, but realistically the Sounders need to be looking far and wide for the kind of player that can impact the game the way, say, Robbie Keane did for the Galaxy during the playoffs.
3. Find longterm solutions at full back: When healthy, Adam Johansson (right) and Leo González were among the better fullback pairings in MLS. Unfortunately, both battled injuries all year, will be on the wrong side of 30 in 2013 and are not exactly the fastest players. Making matters worse is that both are paid relatively well in comparison to other MLS fullbacks. The Sounders could handle bringing one of them back, but the team can’t afford to spend more than $300,000 again on two players who only collectively started 36 matches.