Questions abound as Sounders face offseason

Freddy Montero (ISIPhotos.com)

By JOSE M. ROMERO

The season came to an uninspiring end Sunday night for the Seattle Sounders.

Given the deficit they faced, 0-1 going into the last leg of the playoff series against the L.A. Galaxy, the Sounders needed an energetic, aggressive performance, a shutdown defensive effort and some spark on offense from its scorers to give themselves a chance to win and advance. 

They got virtually none of that, save for a late goal from Steve Zakuani that only made the final aggregate score 3-1. And out of the playoffs quietly went the Sounders, who had played so well in the second half of the regular season only to miss far too many scoring chances and break down in defending set pieces and make it too easy for the Galaxy to take advantage.

Now the Sounders begin the process of assessing who they are, what they have, where they want to be and what it will take to get there after two solid seasons in MLS, only to produce an 0-3-1 mark in the playoffs in those years.

The Sounders can take a measure of dignity in knowing they've won two trophies in five competitions in their first two years. But coach Sigi Schmid and players have always stressed that an MLS Cup is the highest of those titles, and the Sounders have yet to show they are ready to be serious championship contenders.

Schmid said the team still has some growing up to do, maturing so that players can handle the pressure of big games. He said his 2010 team was affected by injuries, which was the case earlier in the season, and suggested that Sunday's game might have been "too big an occasion" for a couple of his players.

There was more. Schmid wants a more experienced, hardened, craftier team in 2011. 

"For me it's already a process of deciding, 'OK, these are the nucleus pieces we can build with and this is where we need to get a little bit better,' " Schmid told the Seattle Times and other media outlets after the game.

First, the team has to figure out its budget for going after players to make the team more experienced and big-game savvy. They might have to part with other players to bolster their coffers. 

The Sounders thought they'd addressed their need for a target forward when they added Blaise N'kufo, but it took N'kufo some time to adjust to MLS and regain match fitness after the World Cup. And N'kufo was a non-factor in the playoffs. 

The Sounders have plenty of speed, but that only got them so far and when the Galaxy negated it by controlling the midfield, that advantage was lost. Also, not having Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans all season might have cost the team a couple of wins, the difference between a higher finish in the West and playing the mighty Galaxy.

On defense, the loss of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado to injury had an effect, even though Jeff Parke did an admirable job at center back. The Sounders displayed a lot of depth and it was a plus over the course of so many games this year between MLS, Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League, plus friendlies.

And what of goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who had a couple of forgettable games this season but still played at a high level despite his advanced age? It seems almost certain he'll be back for one more year, at least, so he can be part of the Northwest rivalry with Portland and Vancouver. Or could the Sounders have other plans for Keller?

There is a good nucleus of players in Seattle and several up-and-coming youngsters. For the short term, the Sounders are going to have a hard time choosing whom to protect in the expansion draft, because with their depth, they're almost certain to lose two players. 

Also, to get to the next level in the postsesason, the team will have to consider giving up on some players the fans have come to adore but that perhaps management deems not in the team's immediate plans. 

One thing appears certain – Even Seattle's most devoted supporters aren't likely to be fine with a third straight quick playoff exit. Expectations will continue to rise. 

This entry was posted in Major League Soccer, MLS- Seattle Sounders. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Questions abound as Sounders face offseason

  1. Camjam says:

    I’m curious to see what seattle does this offseason. I mean, there isn’t one area you can point at and say “seattle sure is weak there”. And the organization has proven they’ll make good moves (mostly)

  2. Peretz48 says:

    The thing that the Sounders don’t want to do is stray from their long-term plan. A desperate move for a player or two is not what’s needed. Rather, they should assess where strengthening is needed, and tweak the personnel. The loss of Hurtado was huge. Not having Evans didn’t help, either. They need a CM with size and skill.

  3. Cairo says:

    I expected the Galaxy to win this series, but I would have picked the Sounders against anybody else except Dallas and maybe RSL. The draw explains why they lost in the first round, but they were never going to win it all this year.
    If Hurtado is back, there will be measurable improvement. Beyond that, a more productive striker than Nkufo is key. They are not going to win MLS cup with Nkufo one year older. He already looks old sometimes. Angel, anyone?

  4. Juan from L.A. says:

    The biggest question as a Sounder fan myself is can we keep Zakuani and especially Montero from going to Europe? Montero would be a huge loss but we have to admit he needs to go Europe. He has the talent. I would love to see more youth in this team too. If you notice the Sounders don’t have any player that is with eligible to play with the U-20 or U-23 team for the US.

  5. Tim M. says:

    As well as Zakuani

  6. Hopper says:

    Get rid of the two Nates. Sturgis will never be the attacking midfielder they need and and Jaqua seems to have lost something. Sturgis was a major weakness on an otherwise solid squad this season. I don’t understand why Sigi didn’t start Alvaro Fernandez at central midfield. Even Mike Seamon was a better option than Sturgis.

    Hurtado and Parke will be a solid tandem at central defense. Ianni did OK back there, but his limitations were badly exposed against the Galaxy. With Gonzalez and Riley on the flanks, I think the defense will be fine.

    Seattle needs a strong attacking central midfielder. It’s too bad Ljungberg didn’t work out, though Sigi rarely played him in that position.

    Some of Sigi’s lineup choices were perplexing this season, but for a second-year team, winning two US Open Cups and getting to the playoffs two years in a row is still an achievement most MLS expansion sides would be proud of.

  7. The Dude says:

    +1000. My thoughts exactly. Let ‘em take the Nates and pick up two better players.

  8. nico says:

    A little surprised that Sigi did not take a little more responsibility for their elimination. He is a great coach, but he showed little ability to make any effective changes against LA (in playoffs or regular season). I suppose he believes in his system, too the point of being stubborn. It was obvious it take more than just speed to beat LA (as LA is speedy as well)…speed alone worked against most MLS teams but you need to be able to do more than just outrun people on flanks. Fernandez should have started, it may not have been enough but likely more effective than Nyassi.

  9. Luis F says:

    I’m not sure that we have the distribution and passing necessary to make speed work against teams that defend as well as LA. The Galaxy did a great job of closing down the midfield and denying space and time. Seattle needed to move the ball much more quickly and allow the Galaxy to tire themselves out. Unfortunately, Seattle either gave up possession cheaply or made bad passing decisions. The result was that LA never got tired.

    Speed could still have been the decisive factor, Seattle just didn’t have the patience with the ball to make it work. I really thought that we’d see a 0-0 game into the 70th minute, and then Zakuani would create something on the wing as LA tired.

  10. Nick_C says:

    After watching the Sounders get beaten in the air for two header goals in the second game, and getting routinely beaten for high balls at midfield by Buddle (which was how the Galaxy scored in the first game), I thought it was fairly apparent that the Sounders could use some upgrades along the back line. Especially a center back who can handle a large striker. Yes, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado was out, but the defense shouldn’t be so reliant on one player. The Sounders should have players who can step in to fill his role. Neither Jeff Parke, nor Patrick Ianni is a true physical force, and Tyrone Marshall is simply past it at this point in his career.

    Even outside of that series, one can look back at the regular season and note that the Sounders had the most goals scored against them of any team who qualified for the playoffs, and the smallest goal difference.

    The attacking talent looks good, but if Seattle’s defense is going to give up goals early, it’s too easy for the opposition to negate the speed of Steve Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi by playing deep. A more reliable back line would go a long towards making the Sounders one of the league’s elite teams.

  11. Randall says:

    Game two where those goals were given up they played their #3 and #4 center backs. Not many teams would be able to survive that. Think what RSL would look like without Borchers and Olave, LA minus Gonzalez and DeLaGarza…

    Sturgis needs to be replaced. Alonso is great defensively, but we need someone to pair with him who plays more box to box and can get involved in the attack. That player may be Fernandez, it may be Evans, or it may be someone new.

  12. hacksaw vs. swaybar says:

    our forwards looked overwhelmed. they couldnt put anything together. our back line was beaten most of the time and our mid field was spread way thin. to say we may lose fredy and zakuani to europe is crazy. maybe in the 3rd divisions, but that is all. i would hope that our boys would take a long hard look at the tapes in the next couple weeks and regroup. from the front office to the last on the bench. lets play the way we can.
    great season boys. fun to watch.
    lets bring it next year.
    GO SOUNDERS!!!

  13. agreed. a world cup player not starting but nyassi is??? doesnt make sense

  14. Nick_C says:

    I acknowledged that those were Seattle’s #3 and #4 center backs, which is partly why i was questioning Seattle’s DEPTH at center back.

    I would argue that both LA Galaxy and RSL have better depth there than Seattle. And, I didn’t say that Parke, Ianni and Marshall are necessarily bad players, they all do some good things, it’s more that Seattle lacks a certain type of player there. A big physical one who wins headers.

    If Gonzalez went out, Berhalter could step in and give the Galaxy a physical presence. In fact, Berhalter was the starter over De La Garza for much of the year. Also, the Galaxy had Lewis starting over Dunivant at LB against Seattle, due to injury. I think that’s a significant step up in depth over what Seattle has.

    RSL were lucky to not have their depth at CB tested much, so it’s hard to say how deep they are there.

    Questions of depth aside, as I pointed out previously, you don’t need to look any further than regular season goals against to know that Seattle needs to shore up their defense to be an elite team.

  15. Dizzo says:

    Seattle has a big CB that can win headers in Tyson Wahl. Hindsight being 20/20 I would have liked to see him start instead of Marshall.

  16. Jim says:

    Angel would play in the Montero position, he couldn’t play Nkufo’s role. The issue up front is a lack of a central midfielder to get the forwards the ball. Can Fernandez play in that spot? And the look weak on the backline, they need some young players back there to work their way into the lineup.

  17. Eurosnob says:

    Well, Zakuani did hist part as you expected, but it was not 0-0 at that point.

  18. Eurosnob says:

    Nick, if Seattle’s main need is a physical central defender, they should consider making an offer to Jay DeMerit. He is certainly much better than their no. 3 and 4 options, and possibly better than their no. 1 option at that position. I personally think that Sounders are in very good shape: the highest attendance in the league, Sigi knows what he is doing, Montero and Zakuani have tons of talent, they also have fairly solid players at other positions. There’s no shame in losing to LA Galaxy. Sounders will get another chance.

  19. Robinswood says:

    Wow, I have no idea where that came from. Parke was as physical a presence as you’ll ever find in this league. He made one mistake the entire season, otherwise his consistency was very impressive. The man does not get beat in the air by anyone ever and at 6′, that’s just plain unreal. Put Hurtado next to him and I’m feeling that it’s the best c-back tandem in the league.

    The Sounders main enemy was youth, something that can only be corrected with patience.

  20. Robinswood says:

    Except Wahl is actually a left outside back. He can play in the middle, but tends to get confused at times there.

  21. Shmenge says:

    The Sounders have a bad case of Arsenal-disease without enough talented on-the-ball midfielders to make it work, especially with Alvaro on the bench.

    In a game crying out for long balls to its speedy wingers BEHIND the Galaxy defense, where Eddie Lewis would be forced to turn and chase, Seattle played endless cutesy passes through the middle and got carved up.

    Part of this is Sigi’s refusal to change his system of play to meet the occasion. Seattle should’ve come out compact, defensively disciplined and ready to hit on the counter. Instead, they were stretched all over the field and tried to go toe-to-toe right into the Galaxy’s strength in midfield.

    An inexcusable tactical rigidity on Sigi’s part.

  22. einar says:

    seattle arent winning next year anyway. Go Galaxy!

  23. bla bla says:

    Arsenal disease is passing the ball with so much precision and forgetting when too shoot…

    that not sounders case

  24. Mattmatumbo says:

    Did you forget about Schuler and Rauwshan McKenzie for RSL?

  25. Nick_C says:

    hey you guys, I wasn’t saying that Seattle was a bad team this year, by any means, but this thread was about how Seattle can improve. If Seattle wants to be a championship contender (which is what I meant by elite), they need to defend better. I agree with Eurosnob, DemMerit could be a great pick up for them, for the right price.

  26. josh says:

    Seattle is missing the guy who runs the show. They have a bunch of good players, and seem to have good character, but at times they seem to be looking around asking “who’s the boss here?” LA had 3 players that could take over and put the team on their back in Donovan, Beckham, and Lewis, but when Seattle went down, they had no one to rally them, and looked lost. They need some on-field leadership that is unquestioned.

  27. Pitch Black says:

    Excited for next season. Northwest will be where its at!

  28. Hincha Tim says:

    You can’t sit back and play defensively and counter attack when you’re down a goal!!!!

  29. Timber Tim says:

    I can’t wait for the NW derbies either. Boy are they going to be fun. Even though I’m a Timbers fan, I think the Sounders organization and their fans are to be commended. The community involvement/interest in Seattle (who cares if a lot of their fans are “Johnny come lately’s” to supporting soccer, that’s how you grow the sport! Their passion is real which is great because they’ll be hurting more when the Timbers kick their butts starting next year!

  30. Emerald_City_Jason says:

    Two primary (and related) problems reared their heads for the umpteenth time Sunday:

    1. Desperately need a big aggressive center-mid that can distribute the ball well and score when needed. Nate Sturgis is emphatically not that, altho I’d welcome him back as a utility sub for friendlies and non-MLS competition (not that I’d protect him). Can Brad Evans be that? Will he even be fully healthy yet next spring?

    2. Complete lack of possession from both our back line and our midfield. Hopeful long-balls as the staple just don’t get it done, and kept us on our heels all night. The few times we actually linked together multiple passes and maintained possession for more than 3 seconds we looked very dangerous. I know Sigi talks about maintaining possession with short quick passes all the time. I don’t know why he can’t get through to the guys. And I also know it is painfully frustrating to watch.

  31. Fred Garvin says:

    Neri Cardozo

  32. JoeW says:

    Seattle has a couple of REALLY big players: Kennedy, Alonso, and Montero (maybe I’d add Keller and Zakuani as well). When those guys are healthy and in-form they win–period. But when any of them are out or not not (see–Montero the last month of the season) then they tend to struggle. I would argue that Seattle needs to find more difference-makers for their team.

  33. sammysounder says:

    We need a central midfielder with GOALS. An attacking CM needs to score, and we have never had a true goal threat out of the CM.

  34. gstommylee says:

    Montero just bought a house and just gotten a green card. I don’t think he would be going to europe for a while.

  35. gstommylee says:

    DeMerit is most likely going to the whitecaps next year. Its just a matter of them announcing it.

  36. Sounder's74 says:

    I would love it if the sounder brought Angel over but how would the fit in again? he is not a holding forward like Nkufo. How would he fit in a 4-4-2