Seattle Sounders 2014 Season Preview: 4 Things to Watch for This Season
The pressure for Sigi Schmid to produce a winner will be the Seattle Sounders' story to watch in 2014, but what additional storylines will complete the team's season preview?
In part 14 of our 19-part series, we will take an in-depth look at the most intriguing plots surrounding the Sounders this season. The number and player to watch, as well as the match that should immediately be circled on your calendar, will be delved into with great detail.
Read on for your comprehensive guide to 2014.
Note: Unless otherwise mentioned, credit all statistics to Squawka. All data collected is licensed from Opta Sports.
Before we preview the coming year, here is MLS' complete list of offseason acquisitions and departures that helped mold this season's version of the club.
|GK||Stefan Frei||Trade from Toronto|
|F||Tristan Bowen||Trade from Chivas|
|D||Chad Marshall||Trade from Columbus|
|F||Kenny Cooper||Trade from FC Dallas|
|F||Corey Hertzog||MLS Re-Entry Draft Stage 2|
|F||Chad Barrett||MLS Re-Entry Draft Stage 2|
|D||Jalil Anibaba||Trade from Chicago|
|D||Damion Lowe||MLS SuperDraft|
|GK||Michael Gspurning||Option Declined|
|D||Marc Burch||Option Declined|
|M||Blair Gavin||Option Declined|
|F||Steve Zakuani||Out of Contract|
|M||Mauro Rosales||Traded to Chivas USA|
|M||Adam Moffat||Traded to FC Dallas|
|F||Eddie Johnson||Traded to D.C. United|
|D||Jhon Kennedy Hurtado||Traded to Chicago|
|D||Patrick Ianni||Traded to Chicago|
|F||Fredy Montero||Transfer to Sporting CP|
|D||James Ockford||Loaned to New York Cosmos|
|F||Eriq Zavaleta||Loaned to Chivas USA|
The Story to Watch: The Pressure to Produce a Winner
Have you ever crashed a Ferrari?
Though not literally, that's what some feel current head coach Sigi Schmid did. The two-time MLS Cup winner was handed a roster in 2013 that featured high-priced talent in Eddie Johnson, Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Osvaldo Alonso. Crashing out of the Western Conference semifinals against the club's fiercest rival—the Portland Timbers—wasn't exactly part of the plan.
It's starting to feel like a U.S. Open Cup title just won't cut it anymore—especially after what Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer told the guys at ExtraTime Radio earlier in the season:
Guys want to win championships and guys want to play with good players, so generally it sorts itself out on the field. Thankfully, Sigi has a very good group of players. (He) had a good group, (but) an even better group today. I can go on vacation. If these guys can't win with this group now, we got some issues.
The Sounders had "some issues" in 2013...internal ones.
The group in general, the mix wasn't quite right. I think that held us back a little bit. But it wasn't pinpointed onto one individual. I think a lot of people are trying to read into that with Johnson, and are making a mistake about that
According to Joshua Mayers of The Seattle Times, a former teammate thinks otherwise:
It's almost like, "In what way is he not a problem?" From being late, disruptive, abusive, uncoachable — the list goes on. You can only take it for so long. You either lose the whole team or you lose him.
Schmid lost the whole team in 2013. Finishing the regular season with a seven-match winless streak added to those issues Hanauer referred to, but the "locker room pariah" that hindered Seattle's continuity last season is no longer present.
The pressure to succeed just ratcheted up a notch in 2014.
The Number to Watch: It Better Be More Than 1
Where's the impatient chatter for Clint Dempsey?
Foreign players have long received adverse reaction after struggling to acclimate to the physicality and speed of MLS. Tim Cahill suffered the wrath of ESPN analyst and former New England Revolution striker Taylor Twellman last season for not scoring enough goals early in his MLS career. Apparently, a midfielder that only averaged seven goals per season in the Premier League should immediately be a double-digit goalscorer in MLS.
Clearly, his $3.5 million salary dictates that.
But what about the attacking player making $5 million who put together a 17-goal season in the Premier League? Where's the ignorant rabble concerning him? Is being an American soccer player enough to escape the harsh criticisms others face?
Excuses for some, but disparagement for others?
Clint Dempsey scored just one goal since returning to MLS in 2013. Sure, he's appeared in just nine matches as a member of the Sounders. But that's more than half of the appearances Cahill had before being met with the ramblings of a "muppet."
Dempsey's poor form isn't exclusive to MLS, either.
The 30-year-old returned to the Premier League in the offseason, going to Fulham on loan. It hasn't exactly gone to plan. The icon responsible for the most American goals in Premier League history is currently scoreless in seven appearances across all competitions.
Maybe spending an offseason with the club paying you one of the highest salaries in league history was a better option.
But teammate Brad Evans remains unconcerned, according to Jeremiah Oshan on MLS' official website:
Clint is at a different stage than all of us. He's going to come in at midseason form almost. He's got two months under his belt at a Premier League level. Whether or not you're winning games and scoring goals, it's about coming in fit and then doing the business here.
An optimistic remark...except Dempsey hasn't done any "business" since the summer of 2013. Unless, of course, you're counting a business transaction that returned him to his native land.
He can't rap to save his life, so producing on the field remains a priority for Clint Dempsey in 2014.
The Player to Watch: Kenny Cooper
Christian Vieri, huh?
The Sounders acquired striker Kenny Cooper from FC Dallas during the offseason in exchange for midfielder Adam Moffat. The seven-year MLS veteran returned to Frisco, Texas last season, but an underwhelming six goals were all he was able to muster.
That mark was 12 less than the total he contributed at Red Bull Arena just a year prior, but that hasn't dampened the optimism surrounding Seattle's new striker partnership, according to Jeremiah Oshan on MLS' official website—especially for Obafemi Martins:
I think he's strong. He has big potential. He reminds me of Christian Vieri with how he plays. He was a big guy, too. We hope we play well together.
His glowing praise was reciprocated by his new teammate:
He's an incredible player, overflowing with talent. He has so many amazing qualities. I think any forward would love the opportunity to line up alongside him.
Martins and Cooper have exclusively partnered up at the top of Sigi's formation this preseason. With Johnson's nine goals and drama no longer on the roster, the duo will look to build a healthy partnership built on continuity and talent in 2014.
The Match to Watch: Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers
Revenge will be on the mind come July 13, 2014.
No rivalry in MLS boasts the pageantry, passion and power that of the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers possesses. The Northwestern duo habitually house an overcrowded fervent support only matched by the eye-catching tifos both cultures create. An epic clash in mid-July will be no different.
In fact, it might be bigger than ever.
For MLS diehards, this rivalry is already a must-watch. A dreamy playoff round between the two in 2013 already added to the narrative heading into the new season. But adding spice to this Cascadia clash is a lead-in no other match on the league calendar will experience in 2014.
Sharing the footballing action on July 13 is the World Cup final in Brazil. International and domestic eyes will be drawn in by the pageantry and drama that is the most-watched event in sports history. Not all will trickle over to ESPN 2 later on that evening, but those still seeking to feed their addiction will be treated to 60,000-plus Seattleites serving as the backdrop to the most aesthetically pleasing football in MLS.
Who cares if it's on turf?
A dynamic crowd. A genuine rivalry.
Don't pretend you won't be a part of the higher-than-average audience that tunes in.
Eduardo Mendez is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and analyst for Opta Sports. Follow him on Twitter for more insight on a variety of sports topics. Follow @Mendez_FC