2013 record: 15-12-7 (52 points); 42 GF / 42 GA (0 GD)
There’s simply no way around it: the Seattle Sounders failed to live up to the expectations of both outsiders and the team itself. Sure, they made the playoffs for a fifth straight season and that’s not something to discount, but both their stretch run and short playoff campaign ended in highly frustrating fashion.
Of course, it didn’t look as though this was going to be the case as late in the season as Sept. 13. That was the day the Sounders manhandled Real Salt Lake and cruised to a 2-0 victory that put them in the pole position for the Supporters’ Shield.
We know now how that played out: the Sounders ended the regular season winless in their final seven, were forced into the “Knockout Round” game and ultimately fell to the hated Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Semifinals. The once steady defense allowed 18 goals in the final eight games and the star-studded offense scored just 1.23 goals per game, the worst mark in the team’s five MLS seasons.
Just to add a rotten cherry to the dirt sundae, the Sounders also saw their US Open Cup dominance end just one game into the 2013 tournament with a loss to the NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies. That all this came in a season in which the stated goal was to win MLS Cup only served to highlight the frustration.
Best Moment of the Year
Part of what made this season so frustrating for Sounders fans was that it held so much promise. At no point was that promise more apparent than when Clint Dempsey was dramatically unveiled as the team’s latest Designated Player signing prior to the club's 3-0 win over FC Dallas on Aug. 3. Although many in attendance were surely aware of the signing before it was official, that hardly took away from the roars when majority owner Joe Roth invited Dempsey onto the pitch before the match and the US captain stripped off his jacket to reveal a Sounders shirt.
The Sounders won that game, part of what would eventually become a 12-match stretch in which they went 8-1-3.
Dempsey’s unveiling seemed to be the final piece of what appeared to be one of the most talented MLS squads ever assembled. The biggest questions seemed to be how they could possibly get all their best players on the pitch at the same time not whether they could actually play together.
Worst Moment of the Year
It doesn’t get much lower than losing to a hated rival in the playoffs. Making it worse for the Sounders was this unshakable feeling that for all the achievements over the past four seasons that the Timbers may have passed them. The feeling in the locker room after the 5-3 aggregate score loss to the Timbers was one of almost shock. Head coach Sigi Schmid didn’t seem to have any answers and the players were clearly having trouble putting words to what they had just experienced. For the fourth straight year, the Sounders had found themselves trailing by at least three goals in an aggregate-goal series and once again did nothing to shake the notion that they simply couldn’t get it done in the playoffs.
Without Fredy Montero to provide long-range bombs and unbelievable moments of brilliance, the Sounders were far more reliant on more workman-like goals. That’s not to say the Sounders were completely without moments of brilliance, though. The best of the bunch belonged to Djimi Traore, the European veteran defender.
Trailing Mexican powers Tigres UANL 2-1 on aggregate, Traore found himself with an open look from about 40 yards out. Although he had only scored a few competitive goals in his professional career, Traore let rip anyway. The hit off the underside of the crossbar and into the goal, tying the aggregate score and setting up a historic victory.
It was an up-and-down season, but Osvaldo Alonso was as steady as ever. Despite not scoring a regular-season goal for the first time in his MLS career and registering a career-low one assist, Alonso’s contributions were undeniable. The Sounders went 12-7-6 in games he started and just 2-5-1 in the others.
Alonso did lead all of MLS with a 88.58 passing percentage and was credited with 3.7 tackles per game, the third best average in the league. Even if he’s prone to the occasional rash tackle or emotional explosion, he proved to be a calming force on the field as he was a short of safety-blanket for both the defense and midfield. It was hardly a surprise that the Sounders rewarded him with a Designated Player contract at the end of the year.
While this had the feeling of a sort of lost season, there was at least one move that will surely pay dividends for years to come … aside from Dempsey’s signing. The decision to not only make DeAndre Yedlin the club’s first-ever Homegrown Player, but to entrust him with the starting right back position from the start of the year was bold and fortuitous.
The 20-year-old was impossible to ignore, and not just because of his constantly changing hairstyles and unique fashion sense. While some growing pains were to be expected, he met each challenge by improving and by the end of the year was one of the Sounders’ best players.
Yedlin’s speed allowed him to get up and down the sideline with relative ease and covered up his penchant for cheating forward. As the year wore on, he also developed a better ability to cross and even showed a nose for goal. In the Sounders’ final game, Yedlin had a goal and an assist to give his team a puncher’s chance in the final minutes.
“It’s our responsibility, collectively, to put a team on the field that has chemistry. What happened in those last 10 games, there are no excuses. I’m not talking about injuries or national team call-ups or anything like that. The chemistry of the team, within the locker room and on the field, wasn’t there. There were too many players thinking about themselves over and above the value of the team.” -- Sounders majority owner Joe Roth
1. Fix the defense: The Sounders have always been known as a strong defensive team, despite lacking any real stars on the backline. A major reason for that was Alonso. But this year, especially down the stretch, the bottom fell out. The Sounders allowed a franchise-worst 42 goals, which doesn’t even include the five goals they allowed to the Timbers in the playoffs. The No. 1 priority has to be finding a center back around whom a defense can be built.
2. Bring in a proven MLS goalkeeper: Michael Gspurning won’t be back and Marcus Hahnemann is going to be 42 years old. While Hahnemann could very well win the No. 1 job regardless, it would be a very questionable decision not to bring in someone to at least compete. There is no shortage of goalkeepers with established MLS track records currently on the market, and bringing in at least one would seem to be a no-brainer.
3. Settle on a style: Sigi Schmid has always said that he prefers to adapt his system to the players, not the other way around. That has served him well over the years, as his record shows. Maybe it was a symptom of a larger problem, but the constant shifting in formations did not work out very well this year. With a core of players now in place, the Sounders would be well served to determine how they want to play and build around that, rather than looking for the best possible player and hoping to figure it on the fly.