Steve Zakuani

Season Preview: Seattle Sounders by Drew Olsen

The Sounders history comes at you as if you had just yelled "come at me, bro!" and meant it. The Sounders didn't just come out of the gate in 2009, they came out of the gate like they had just stolen a car, killed a hooker in GTA, and they weren't interested in stopping until they got those five stars and summoned multiple helicopters. The funny thing is that with all this "success," they've never won a single piece of MLS-specific hardware. Yes, they've earned 3 U.S. Open Cup trophies and fell just short on penalties to Sporting KC for a fourth, and the club has tallied the 2nd-most total points in MLS since its inception (266 total points, 53 points per season). But the Sounders have inevitably faltered when the time has come to step up and win the trophy. Adrian Hanauer and Co. are set on changing that in 2014. 2013 Finish: 15-12-7, 52 points; 42 GF, 42 GA. Fourth place in Western Conference. Lost in MLS Cup Conference Semi-Finals.

SoundersXI

Transactions

Players In Players Out
GK Stefan Frei Trade (Toronto) GK Michael Gspurning Option Declined
F Tristan Bowen Trade (Chivas) D Marc Burch Option Declined
D Chad Marshall Trade (Chivas) M Blair Gavin Option Declined
F Kenny Cooper Trade (Dallas) F Steve Zakuani Option Declined
F Corey Hertzog Re-Entry Stage 2 M Mauro Rosales Trade (Chivas)
M Aaron Kovar Home Grown Player M Adam Moffatt Trade (Dallas)
F Sean Okoli Home Grown Player F Eddie Johnson Trade (DC United)
F Chad Barrett Re-Entry Stage 2 D Jhon Kennedy Hurtado Trade (Chicago)
D Jalil Anibaba Trade (Chicago) D Patrick Ianni Trade (Chicago)
M Marco Pappa Allocation F Fredy Montero Transfer (Sporting CP)
F Will Bates Waived
D Jimmy Ockford Loaned (NY Cosmos)
F Eriq Zavaleta Loaned (Chivas)
M Alex Caskey Traded (DC United)

Roster churn: Seattle returns 58.9% of its minutes played from 2013 (15th most in MLS and 7th most in the Western Conference)

2014 Preview

SEA-ROSNow, after an extremely disappointing finish in 2013 to not just the season but the playoffs, SEAINFOthe Sounders have rebuilt their squad with dynamic talent that specifically caters to their team chemistry---and, side note, they may be just as dynamic off the pitch as on it. Seattle invested in the team's spine by finding new keeper Stefan Frei to fill the boots of the departed Michael Gspurning, acquired Chad Marshall from Columbus,  signed critical midfielder Ozzie 'Honey Badger' Alonso to a designated player contract, and then traded Adam Moffat for Kenny Cooper. Cooper looks to be inserted in the spare striker role and work with Obafemi Martins in lieu of the wayward Eddie Johnson.

The team has a pretty solid line-up and even includes some interesting youth beyond just that of DeAndre Yedlin. Tristan Bowen, the original home grown player (HGP), joins the attacking front line and should get some looks up top this season. Along with him, the club will be expecting big things from central midfielder Andy Rose. Sean Okoli and Aaron Kovar, who could contribute to the season in their own ways, lead the second coming of Sounders HGP.

Overall, the club wasn't bad in 2013. However, "not bad" wasn't on the list of ideal outcomes at the beginning of the season. Seattle limped out of the gate in 2013, and without key pieces in the lineup, the Sounders found that they weren't generating as many opportunities as their opponents, and the poor results followed suit. It came as little surprised that, without big-money players in the lineup, and with no CCL money available or that four-year bubble money for new teams, the Sounders were just too thin to deal with the weekly roster trimming.

Both of those financial sources that we went dry were also helping to soak up the payroll strains of having Steve Zakuani on the roster. It's not his fault that problems have continued to occur following that horrible incident, but it left the Rave Green with an extremely tough decision to make this off-season. A decision that forced the club to decline to tender a contract to Zakuani, which ended in the delight of many Portland supporters--as the Timbers swooped in and signed him--and the sobs of Emerald City Supporters.

Before today, we knew the Sounders would be playing a lot of new players this season, and the roster churn continued today with the move of Alex Caskey to DC United. This will be one of the "newest" teams in MLS in some ways, especially when you consider that Clint Dempsey only played nine games for the Sounders last season. The squad is nearing completion with the likelihood that they'll add a trialist to an important rotation spot. Now that we pretty much know who's on the squad, the question is how consistent they will be.

As mentioned, Seattle's numbers from 2013 all look very much mediocre. Those are, of course, averages from an entire season, and this only serves as another reminder that the mountain peaks were high and the valleys were equally low last season. Games against FC Dallas, San Jose and even Real Salt Lake at home were decisive victories by a team that ruled its opponents both on the scoreboard and by the numbers. Then they saw embarrassing losses on the road against those same Real Salt Lake and Dallas teams, as well as against Colorado. Not to mention that Vancouver pretty much won the Cascadia Cup by a landslide at Century Link field in a game that piled on to the fact that the club had gone from Supporters' Shield favorite to being on the cusp of falling out of the playoffs. The club isn't as bad as the ratio numbers display---as suggested by our soon-to-be-published xGD 2.0---but it wasn't the type of season that they want to pin up on Mom's fridge.

Going forward, with all the pressure the supporters have on Sigi Schmid, this is a season where he may need to find the minimum of an MLS Cup Final appearance to save his job. With an improved back line and a full season of both Martins and Clint Dempsey, along with the addition of a creative player like Marco Pappa coming out of the midfield, the club has all the pieces at their disposal to get to the playoffs rather comfortably. And once they get there, it's all going to be all about the current health of the squad. The injury bug has not been favorable for the Sounders in the past, but that said, their depth has also improved. The patience has worn thin on the Schmid coaching regime. It's time for some real hardware.

Crowdsourcing Results

American Soccer Analysis readers seem to think that the Sounders will continue to have success in 2014 . They have projected Seattle to finish 3rd in the Western Conference this season, with 28.1% of voters placing them there, and 63.3% of voters placing them somewhere in the top three. There are only a few doubters, with a very small 6.4% of voters placing them in spots six through nine, out of the playoffs.

GAME OF THE WEEK: Los Angeles VS. Seattle by Drew Olsen

Since the weekend was filled with barbecues, families, and time away from the pseudo grind of the world, we decided to skip out on our weekly podcast. But we all love our "Game of the Week" contest so much that we decided to still preview tonight’s game of the week between Seattle and LA. This is what we do for you, America. This is our service.

DREW:

The LA Galaxy are playing a soccer game? ESPN, you know what to do... broadcast it at a time when everyone East of Utah will be asleep! After last week's Galaxy v Red Bulls snoozefest took 89 minutes for anything to happen, ESPN has decided to go double or nothing and show the slumping Galaxy against a Seattle team on a roll. It has largely been because Lamar Neagle (no, seriously) has either found out how to use those neon jerseys to blind defenders, or finally decided he's an MLS quality striker. After Seattle started the season unable to score goals, the Sounders are now getting them in bunches. Or as I like to put it: they're regressing to the mean with a vengeance!

As for the Galaxy, their dependence on Juninho was exposed last week after a hard tackle from his namesake forced him to leave the game early. Los Angeles never got back into sync with him off the field, and New York dominated the rest of the game. As of this writing, his status is still up in the air, but If the Galaxy are going to keep Ozzie Alonso in check they'll need Juninho to keep him occupied. Should Garcia (or anyone else) get the start in Juninho's place, then Alonso will get more forward than he otherwise would, freeing up Neagle, Martins, and family to attack the net. Couple that with the fact that Carlo Cudicini has looked as good in goal this season as Jimmy Nielsen looks in jorts, and the Galaxy could be in for a hurtin'.
All that said, the Galaxy have been very solid at home this season, and the Fishing Village to the North have found their scoring touch at home, but still struggle to get goals on the road. My prediction: if Juninho plays, the Galaxy will pull this out 2-1. If not, it will be a 1-1 draw.
MATTHIAS:
The Sounders have come on strong recently, recording 13 points in their last five matches. I checked for a recent dip in Seattle's strength of schedule, but there was no such dip to be found. Seattle has played three of those last five matches on the road, including a win on the road in Kansas City and a win at home over Dallas.
The Sounders' win at Colorado shouldn't be overlooked either. I will be coming out with a strength of schedule index soon, but my beta version* suggests that the Rapids have played the toughest schedule to this point (along with New England). That's not to mention that, as the away team, Seattle was giving up an estimated third-of-a-goal in an uphill battle. Impressive stuff.
But after saying all those wonderful things about Seattle, my three points this week go to the Galaxy in a one-goal victory. Though the Sounders find themselves second in the tables in goal differential, they are second to the Galaxy. Though the Sounders have an impressive 1.21 Shots-on-goal Ratio, the Galaxy have outdone them again at 1.37. Though the Sounders' strength of schedule has been difficult recently, over the course of the season it's the Galaxy that have faced seemingly tougher opponents. The final nail in the coffin is that the game will be played in Los Angeles, and that third-of-a-goal advantage will lie with the Galaxy. LA drew more than 20,000 fans to its last home match on May 5th, and you can bet they'll show up for the red hot Sounders.
 
*Strength of schedule is currently based on opponents' goal differentials and shots-on-goal ratios.
HARRISON:
I write a lot about the Sounders over the course of the week so let me make this simple. They were taking shots; at first they weren't going in and then, recently, they started all going in. Somewhere in between these two truths lies the median of this organization. They aren't as good or as lucky as what they've been in cumulatively over the past 2 1/2 weeks. But they certainly weren't as bad as what they were to start the season. It's a bit difficult to gauge the true talent level of this squad because of how frequent these parts are moving about.
Unfortunately, for the Sounders, Ozzie Alonso is suffering from a groin strain that will probably prevent him from making an appearance and Steve Zakuani is still not able to go this weekend. Which will force the Sounders to work with an inopportune 18 and even a less-conducive starting XI. This isn't something new to them this year, but I imagine that it's still going to be tough for them to deal with due to how Los Angeles works the ball through the middle of the field with Marcelo Sarvas.
However, the Galaxy are also dealing with injuries to their central midfield---specifically with Juninho who, as Drew mentioned above, was taken out ironically enough by a rough tackle from New York's opposing Juninho. Los Angeles uses an assortment of means to move the ball up the pitch. They average more shots than their opponents, more possessions and longer ones by the standard of TFS. Despite that, they've managed an impressive 17 points in 11 games and are still considered one of the more unlucky teams in all the league.
Adding to their attack the athletic Robbie Rogers and a Landon Donovan---who has something to prove to Jurgen Klinsmann---and all of a sudden you have a club that is very dangerous and probably one of the better ones in the league. Add that to the likelihood of the Sounders shot-to-goal ratio coming back to earth and the absence of Ozzie Alonso, and you end up with a very likely Galaxy win at home. I don't think it's going to be anywhere a long the lines of the Sounders defeat from the playoffs, but a 2-1 victory wouldn't surprise me.
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Current Standings (as best as I can remember them):
Drew 0 - 3 ; Prediction: LA (if Juninho plays)
Matthias 2 - 3 ; Prediction: LA
Harrison 1 - 4 ; Prediction: LA