Sounders FC Season Review – A Qualified and Qualifying Success

Posted in Seattle

Published on November 20, 2012 with 20 Comments

Mike Gspurning has answered the Kasey Keller questions emphatically

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.

His goals against average of 0.73 topped the table and he is a finalist for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year but his presence also by common agreement seemed to make those in front of him play better.

Rosales had poor luck with injuries in 2012

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.

Johnson’s season was a triumph for the  FO who took a risk on him, and his coach who made it work

 

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.

Zach Scott scored Sounders last goal of 2012

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.

2014



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20 Comments

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  1. Thank you for this.

    While we all would’ve liked more (obviously), you really have to have unreasonably high expectations to consider this season a failure, although many have done so.

    Not the success we all hoped for, of course, but to call it a failure deliberately ignores what the club was able to accomplish this year despite being plagued by injuries and having an incredibly congested schedule.

    I’m cautiously optimistic for next season, much like the last. I hope this roster can be kept together, as I think it was just a few key injuries short of being incredibly good for an MLS side this season.

    • Dylan,

      I broadly agree though would point out that other sides, notably FC Dallas had far worse injuries. Many fans make calculations based on how their team would fare if fully fit but measure it against opponents without making the same adjustments.

      The best cause for optimism in my mind is the thought of Steve Zakuani being back and fully fit.

  2. Much has been made of the Sounders seventh place finish in the overall MLS table. I would posit that just as the value of the Supporter’s Shield has been lessoned by the unbalanced schedule, so then has the placing stock in where we finished in the single table. We finished third in the West, one place worse than last year, where with a balanced schedule that was good enough to have us as second overall in MLS.

    No doubt that the Sounders were not as successful this year as last in the regular season. The unbalanced schedule skews the true meaning of the regular season. Some teams will be the benefactors of luck when they get to face weaker opponents later in the season more often. It is a roll of the dice and I am not espousing a conspiracy thoery but it creates artificial advantages for some teams that should not exist.

    A balanced schedule prevents that. It adds more weight to the value of the single table and Supporter’s Shield, and makes things more equitable for all involved.

    There was nothing that MLS did this season that annoyed me more as a fan than the unbalanced schedule.

    I’m not saying that MLS messed everything up this year. Far from it. They did numerous things right. But the unbalanced schedule was a flop in my opinion.

  3. On the Seattle Times Sounders blog I was torn between a B and a C, though really I’m more torn between a C+ and a B-. On the plus side: playoff qualification, one playoff win, CL advancement, and promising new players. On the minus side: no trophies, worse position on the table, and no CL for the 2013/14 season. I dunno what to say about Montero, it’s like he has this ceiling that he hasn’t been able to break through. He seems to be good for 10+ goals, 10+ assists but then he just tops out. Yeah we’ve seen him get stronger but his numbers haven’t greatly improved over 4 years. I think Rosales is done, as great of a guy as he is and we still see moments of brilliance, there just aren’t enough of those moments, plus he gets barged off the ball easily. Should the Sounders dump Tiffert? I think so, someone of his experience shouldn’t need this much acclimation time– maybe give him another half season.

    While I don’t think we need to go full brute force the SJ Earthquakes way, I still feel that the Sounders have too many finesse players on the field. One systematic problem that seems to remain from previous years is that they don’t do well against a full court press, to borrow a basketball term. When the Sounders get out-muscled all over the field they just don’t connect passes and they give away balls, that was the first leg against LA. I don’t know if that’s due to training being soft or their focus on finesse over strength.

    After writing all this out I guess I’ll give the season a B-, but I still view 2011 as a better year due to two trophies and more points on the table despite the worse playoff result.

    • Don’t give up on CL yet, there is one last gasp to make the 2013-14 pool…… win the Champions League this time around! hehe

    • I agree this is probably Montero’s peak, but as long as he’s not the only double digit goal scorer, I’ll be quite content with 10+ goals and 8ish assists every year, even on a DP contract. We could bet and try to get more, but are more likely to fall short of that production level than improve on it. He’s earning his pay.

      Regarding Rosales, 6th most minutes on the team suggests he’s not as injury-plagued as it seems. I think he deserves 1 more year.

      As to Tiffert, to say he’s experienced enough not to need time to acclimate just ignores the examples of DPs all over the league. Was Keane less experienced? Thierry Henry? Give him next year as well.

      I am fairly certain EJ is signed through next year, and unless he demands an immediate raise (which I’d be dubious of, given the chance the team took on him in year 1), I don’t see the need to free up any of our DP slots. We need to maintain consistency in the front 6, as all the most successful MLS clubs do, and keep that group intact for 2013.

      The major changes I’d like to see would be on defense. A more reliable LB and a stronger primary pairing with Jeff Parke (who must be retained) at CB would do nicely. With that, I think we’re as good as anyone in the league. However, if we lose Parke and bring in a replacement-level player, expect the team to leak a lot more goals next year and be stuck in roughly the same position in the table. That said, if Parke wants a significant raise, there may be no choice, and we can’t blame the FO for the constraints of the league.

  4. Before I say anything about your post, please excuse a moment of self-promotion. I want to get this out of the way before you make any predictions, Editor, lest you don’t influence me more than you have.

    My predictions for the Sounders 2013 roster changes:
    http://insatiable-curmudgeonry.blogspot.com/

    (I say this cause at the end of 2010, I foresaw Sounders picking up Eddie Johnson. Alas I didn’t put into cyberspace so I can make no claims. Let that not happen again!)

    • I wish you’d have said. I’d have run that as a fan Op-Ed!

    • Lose-lose,

      your post was a fun read!

      • Thanks!

  5. A couple of “Did You Knows” about Rosales:

    1. Rosales played/started MORE matches this year than he did in 2011, and played 20% more minutes!

    2. Rosales tied his club record for assists this year. (Actually a bit of a letdown, considering the above, because his early 2012 wasn’t great, but still.)

    3. Since Rosales has been with the Sounders, only Brad Davis has racked up more assists in MLS.

    I’d say those are all strong indicators of a player to keep.

  6. We need superstars in all in player positions 1-22 , salary cap restricts are really holding this league back…

  7. I dont know why they wouldnt give the majority of this team another season. A good core of guys needs to be established and because we faired well in all competitions just some unlucky moments took away some of the glory. But the fight, and skill was there. I heard rosales was good for one more season with us and i hope he brings it and we back him up because he was a great guy to have for the team. As for montero, im glad you pointed out his assists because not a lot of people are aware that he got about 10 assists and 13 goals for the season. Which means he was just 2 goals shy of Eddie and about 3 assists shy of rosales. So he definetly is a big part of our attack. Also sounders have spent a lot of time finding a partner for fredy. And here comes eddie. Finally a succesful dou and now people are get rid of fredy. What? Make those two train together all off/preseason. Have sleepovers at eachothers house whatever continue to get those two on the same page. If you dump fredy your just gonna have to start all over. Solodade hopefully will be available next season and from what i understand hes a decent player and is that second strong body to play up front. So get the guys healthy and continue to work with the competitive team you have. Only defense is where id like to see help in. And thats just the way i see it but what do i know.

  8. Sounders renegotiate Rosales contract, pick-up Feilhaber (at $350k).

    Martinez does not sign.

    Johnson gets a raise, but not DP status.

    Tiffert starts more 2013 matches on the right than Rosales, due to injuries.

    Duran has a breakout season, covering for Johansson injury.

    Waived: Steres, Weber, Seamon, Meredith

    Transferred: Carrasco, Tetteh, Montero (to Liga)

    Signings: Honduran CB, George Ogararu, Thomas Müller

    Sounders win another Open Cup (meeting NASL side in the final), make it to CCL semifinal, take Supporter’s Shield, and win MLS Cup.

    • Not bad predictions, but what about other players? Hurtado? Parke? Or do you mean to say “the rest stay as-is”?

  9. I really wish more people could see the bigger picture regarding Tiffert. If Sigi continues to deploy Tiffert out of position, than yes you can expect Tiffert to continue to struggle. If you aren’t going to use a player properly, I understand getting rid of said player but it would be a shame because Tiffert is a very good player when utilized correctly and I believe he is an ideal piece to the balance of our team. We’ve typically run two very offensive minded wings who don’t always play the most defense, so having relatively double pivots as CM’s instead of box to box midfielders has allowed us to defend better as a unit and is one of the reasons I believe we have a better defensive record this year (that and a better goalie).

    Using him as a withdrawn forward against LA was a mistake on Sigi, and he was never going to excel in that role. And while he likes the fluidity of being able to drift wide at times, he is naturally a pivot style CM who is an extremely proficient passer. Expecting him to sit on the wings and try to run at players is not his forte either, so I wasn’t surprised when he had a less than stellar match in the return leg. I also don’t understand why Sigi decided to switch Tiffert and Evans roles come playoff time when they’d been playing much of the reverse for the last half of the season.

    The other bonus to playing Tiffert in the center is it rids us of one my biggest pet peeves of Sigi. I personally do not believe we’ll ever win an MLS cup with Evans as one of our CM’s, his positional discipline and defensive awareness is careless at times and in close games it is too imparative that this is not the case. Not to mention, his passing ability and efficientcy is no where near up to par with that of Tiffert’s. So when Sigi started using Evans on the wing, I was a huge fan of this move. It allowed Evans to do what he does best is making those late runs behind a defense without having to deal with the responsibility of getting caught on the counter.

    Sorry for the long winded response, but too many people look at a player from a perspective of he only scored X amount of goals/assists without realizing what the player brings to a side from a tactical stand point. And I feel like many of the people who think Tiffert should be out are categorizing him incorrectly.

  10. I’ve had a very long drive with nothing to think about, so I concocted the follow scenario:
    -GIVEN that Roth likes to throw big money around (have you seen the movies he made? Ain’t cheap to produce!)
    -GIVEN that Roth wants big money in return
    -HOPING that Roth is in this for long-term results
    -ASSUMING that Roth wants to make a HUGE, MAJOR impact on not only North American soccer, but the global scene…

    I offer this:
    -Sigi is dropped.
    -Montero and Alonso traded to Europe for a nice price.
    -Rosales, Parke and Hurtado traded (but for not nearly as much)

    In return:
    Roth hires the best available coach in the world: Pep Guardiola.
    Not only to coach the Sounders, but model them after the best team in the world.
    To accomplish this, Pep brings over 3 products of Barcelona: Puyol, Xavi, and David Villa.

    BAM!
    You want to make an impact, Roth, then this is how you do it.

    • Even if he won every game, he wouldn’t make his money back in that case. One hopes no-one got mowed over while you were driving ;-)

    • Yeah, I think your Bam concept might be a little too hopeful… but I think you’re right that this ownership group may be more ambitious than most of us realize. I have a hunch this ambition won’t play out fully next year but in 2014 when the XBOX sponsorship is up. The Sounders are a highly valuable brand already – probably the most valuable club in the MLS with the exception of LA. As the MLS increases in exposure Seattle will also grow in value. Some potential sponsors can see this. I’ve read that the Sounder’s ownership group wants a lot more money than Microsoft is willing to pony up but that Emirates has shown interest. The cache (and fee) that comes with a sponsor like that would be tremendous for the Sounders. But I think there would be a major string attached – a major international signing on par with Beckham or Henry. And as you said LL maybe not just one player. However, I think Sigi is key in this play and here for the foreseeable future. This would go against the Sounders strategy so far of building the team with modest salaries. But I think it is a gamble they need to take – and are willing to take – if they are to lead the MLS into the rarified atmosphere of the world’s great futbol leagues.

      • Dmon’s theory is well worth a read. But does he overstretch Sounders FC’s pull or ambition? Or am I the cynic who will prove to be the fool?

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