Sounders FC set out on 2012 with one aim voiced above all others. The club needed to shake off its 0% record in MLS play-offs and win through a round.
By beating Real Salt Lake 1-0 on aggregate, they achieved that. If you achieve your main goal, you can call your season successful.
There was more though that the club can be satisfied with about this season.
Firstly, they managed to do the next things most fans agonised over, replace Kasey Keller. Mike Gspurning has become a favourite with both fans and colleagues for a string of impressive performances.
Furthermore he is liquid gold inside the locker room according to club sources. He is the first to pick the heads up after a bad result to begin their focus on the next match.
Many Sounders fans rightly ponder what the regular season table might have looked like had he remained fit all season. Next year they should know.
The Open Cup continued to provide the support with an enjoyable ride and although they played poorly in the final, they may well have still retained it had it not been for the inexplicable timing of referee Salazar’s decision to start enforcing the rule regarding a keeper staying on the line.
In CONCACAF, they showed how far they have progressed.
They were completely outclassed by Santos Laguna in early March, but were among the most comfortable qualifiers by the end of the season and deserved better with their third seed than to face a Mexican side next March.
Without knowing the off season personnel changes to come, it is of course difficult to say if they will beat Tigres but the current squad, fully fit, would surely get closer than they did to Santos Laguna.
On the subject of player personnel, changes are bound to happen in Seattle as they will anywhere else. The fate of Fredy Montero has been the subject of online speculation.
Some fans believe he has displayed insufficient effort although there is just as vocal a lobby who stand by him. While he occupies a DP slot and his strike partner Eddie Johnson does not, fans will inevitably compare their respective contributions.
Johnson has been another of Sounders FC’s 2012 successes, He arrived with a poor reputation as a locker room guy, initially proved it was well deserved, and then worked on it – and fixed it. He may have personality clashes with a couple of other players but with a goalscoring record and some seriously impressive individual performances, does it matter?
Adrian Hanauer, Chris Henderson and Sigi Schmid should receive a great deal of credit for taking the risk on Johnson and finally making him a happy and contributing Sounder.
If Gspurning and Johnson were the success stories for the recruiting sergeants, Christian Sivebæk was a failure making little impact in his tenure here.
Those situations are clear cut.
Opinion is more divided on Christian Tiffert and Adam Johansson. Johansson replaced James Riley at right back and has been marginally an improvement but not significantly. Given the lack of coverage behind him though, he is worth sticking with and will improve as he adapts further to life in MLS.
Christian Tiffert is eating a larger chunk of the salary cap than Johansson. He started well but faded and kept fading until the very last match of the season. With the need to keep Eddie Johnson perhaps necessitating a DP slot, Tiffert’s contribution is worth assessing.
That assessment lies in the future and is twinned with the fate of the other DP who had a disappointing season, Mauro Rosales. Rosales’ year was injury plagued. Some are questioning if this was ill luck or if the longer recovery periods are due to age.
Given what is known about how much he does bring when fit, surely it’s worth waiting to see and not making him the sacrifice to keep Johnson. The gifted Argentinian is not likely to be a 34 game starter next year but who else in the squad, other than maybe Montero, can turn games with one piece of individual brilliance like Rosales?
In midfield, Osvaldo Alonso continued to blossom like a prize winning fanged venus fly-trap. It may be time soon for his own career’s sake for that fly trap to take wings and fly itself. In the interim, he continues to be the best in the American business at his position.
Furthermore, there were some increasing signs of a new calmness that was keeping him out the referee’s notebook in the latter half of the season. In the circumstances he can be forgiven for letting it all out on the final whistle on Sunday.
Further promising signs in the midfield came from the instant maturity of Alex Caskey and Andy Rose. Both improved in front of our eyes game by game, and both deserve to be around next season. Servando Carrasco alas has fallen behind them in the pecking order, as has Mike Seamon who seems more likely to get games in defence next year.
Brad Evans fulfilled Sigi Schmid’s pre-season prophecy when he said that we would see the best of Evans because he had been finally able to have a complete pre-season unhampered by injury for the first time as a Sounder. He hasn’t won round those who are determined to criticise Brad Evans but he has won everybody else.
Despite the excellent statistics for goals conceded, the defence needs examination. The superb Jeff Parke had a marquee season and became perhaps Sounders best ever centre half, even peeking around the wall onto the international scene.
Parke is out of contract and has probably played his last game as a Sounder due to a combination of family ties to the Northeast and lingering resentment from the Torreon fall out with Schmid. This makes a very large hole in the squad while doubts persist about Pat Ianni’s fitness and Jhon Hurtado’s rate of improvement. Zach Scott has not let the side down but he is not a starter at that position. After Sunday, he may even be higher up the pecking order at left back.
With Tyson Wahl being waived by the Rapids, he may be a useful addition to the squad at the lower end of the salary scale to shore up various positions. None of this though should conceal the need for a big signing at center half.
And that might not be as difficult as it sounds.
Can RSL seriously hold on to all four of Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Chris Schuler? The first two carry a base salary of $200,000, a trifle more than Parke. The latter two earn less than $50,000 and have impressed at the top level.
With their failure to make the CONCACAF latter stages, RSL may have to trim their sails a little, so one of the veterans may well be off loaded.
The last portion looks back at that part of the season that seems most relevant to the diehards, the regular season table.
Sounders came in seventh, below 2011. That was not good enough for a side that wants to join the elite.
A counter argument is that bulldozing their way through the regular season did not do San Jose Earthquakes much good when it came to the play-offs.
However, it is probably a price worth paying as long as the play-offs are secured, in order to remain competitive on the other fronts of CONCACAF and the US Open Cup.
Sigi Schmid did an admirable job in juggling his resources in 2012.
He will have his hands full again next season especially if sides like FC Dallas have less of an injury devastated season and the Rapids recruit better in the off season than they did last year.
But he will hopefully have Steve Zakuani back to form and available.
That lies ahead.
In the meantime, the amount of qualification and going deeper into MLS than ever before makes 2012 a qualified success for Sounders FC.
Next year it will be a trophy and a place in the MLS Cup Final.