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PREVIEW: Sounders set new course to rectify disappointments
by Ridge Mahoney, March 6th, 2014 6:46PM

TAGS:  mls, seattle sounders


[MLS 2014: Western Conference] For the Sounders in 2013, the setting changed but the outcome didn’t.

They finished fourth, which matched their lowest placing since joining MLS in 2009, and though they got past Colorado in the wild-card game, archrival Portland knocked them out in the conference semifinals. To the surprise of some, head coach Sigi Schmid kept his job.

In postseason interviews with team management, he set out a clear path forward, one that didn’t include some prominent pieces: forward Eddie Johnson, midfielder Mauro Rosales, defenders Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni and goalkeeper Michael Gspurning. All but Gspurning were traded to rival MLS teams, which will give Sounders fans plenty of fresh ammunition if they perform well and Seattle doesn’t in 2014.

2013 Seattle Sounders
Record: 15-12-7.
Finish: 4th in Western Conference.
Playoffs: defeated in conference semifinals.

The attack will little resemble to its versions from past seasons. Schmid traded up in the allocation order to claim former winger Marco Pappa, who can supply the pace Seattle has often lacked since injury befell Steve Zakuani; he signed with Portland after his contract expired. The focus remains on Clint Dempsey, but his World Cup commitments will require backup plans that include Kenny Cooper, another newcomer, as an alternative to Obafemi Martins or in different roles depending on needs. Schmid tinkered with a 4-3-3 formation last year and the addition of Pappa gives him an ideal complement to Lamar Neagle in the wide roles.

Former Defender of the Year Chad Marshall, a stud centerback when Schmid guided the Crew to its only league title in 2008, spent the preseason getting to know Jalil Anibaba, a trade acquisition from Chicago. Anibaba played a lot of right back for the Fire but Schmid plans to play him centrally. In goal, there’s a duel between incumbent Marcus Hahnemann and Stefan Frei, whose stock at Toronto FC dropped alarmingly while he battled to recover from a broken leg and torn ligaments.

A flurry of last-minute signings have fleshed out what is, on paper, a strong roster despite it undergoing a drastic makeover. Midfielder Gonzalo Pineda, draft pick Fabio Pereira and USL PRO product Michael Azira signed contracts this week. Pineda, 31, has represented Mexico 32 times and played impressively enough in four preseason games as a playmaker to earn a contract.

Western Conference Preview:
Chivas USA | Colorado | FC Dallas | LA Galaxy
Portland | Real Salt Lake | San Jose

WHY BE OPTIMISTIC? While the ultimate triumph has proved to be elusive, the Sounders are still packing in crowds of more than 40,000 per game and are covered extensively by local and regional media outlets. Revamping a strong roster is risky, yet Schmid has restocked with several proven commodities, and shedding Johnson’s prickly persona should freshen the mood. Marshall, Pappa, Frei and Cooper all have something to prove and should feast on the frenzied support they’ll receive at home games.

WHY BE PESSIMISTIC? Dempsey’s loan to Fulham didn’t bear much fruit and if he’s more concerned about getting sharp for the World Cup than busting butt for the Sounders, he could be of little use in the first half of the season. It’s not a fair comparison but since the days of Kasey Keller the goalkeeping has often been an issue. Rosales wasn’t as influential in 2013 as in his first two seasons (Newcomer of the Year in 2011) yet he brought a lot of guile and flair that thrilled the fans while also generating scoring chances.

PROJECTED FINISH: 3rd-4th place. The Sounders will look very different in 2014 and there’s a lot riding on players not familiar with each other.

24-Stefan Frei (27)/Switzerland (Toronto FC)

17-DeAndre Yedlin (20)/USA (2nd season)
5-Chad Marshall (29)/USA (Columbus Crew)
4-Jalil Anibaba (25)/USA (Philadelphia Union)
12-Leonardo Gonzalez (33)/Costa Rica (6th season)

6-Osvaldo Alonso (28)/Cuba (6th season)
3-Brad Evans (28)/USA (2nd season)
2-Clint Dempsey (31)/USA (2nd season)
10-Marco Pappa (26)/Guatemala (Heerenveen)

33-Kenny Cooper (29)/USA (FC Dallas)
9-Obafemi Martins (29)/Nigeria (2nd season)

First off the bench:
27-*Lamar Neagle (26)/USA (2nd season)
8-Gonzalo Pineda (31)/Mexico (Queretaro)
15-Dylan Remick (22)/USA (2nd season)
25-Andy Rose (24)/England (3rd season)
Seattle Sounders: complete roster.

returning players in bold.
*second stint at club.

March 8: Sporting KC, 3 pm ET, NBCSN
March 15: Toronto FC, 4:30 pm ET
March 22: at Montreal, 4 pm ET
March 29: Columbus, 10 pm ET
Seattle Sounders: complete schedule.

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