Change has been abundant in Seattle this year. With a number of prominent first team members shipped out of Seattle Sounders, it facilitated the arrival of a number of new faces. The home of the Super Bowl champions, the city’s soccer team is yet to feature in the show piece occasion of MLS. Regardless, they still had one of the biggest talking points last season when they acquired Clint Dempsey from Tottenham Hotspur.
On paper, the Sounders had a deadly strike force comprising Oba Martins, Eddie Johnson and Dempsey, but it simply didn’t click last season as the Sounders were meekly eliminated from the MLS playoffs by fierce rivals Portland Timbers.
It meant that a significant change was required, and looking at the Seattle squad, that is certainly the case. The names of the departed were once all prominent members of the squad — Mauro Rosales, Eddie Johnson, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Michael Gspurning. Only a few of the club’s prominent players from last year remain.
In their place arrive the likes of Chad Marshall, Kenny Cooper, Marco Pappa, and Stefan Frei. With Brad Evans believing the club have replaced the former group with ‘good people,’ the harmony of the dressing room will be a constant discussion point for Seattle this season.
Last season, the divisive/honest (depending on your slant) nature of Eddie Johnson made him an easy scapegoat for the club and those evaluating Seattle. Now that he has pitched up in the nation’s capital, togetherness should flow with ease in Seattle — at least in theory.
It was certainly something Sigi Schmid hinted towards in a recent interview with ESPNFC:
“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.”
One former teammate (who sought anonymity) was far from forgiving of Johnson’s influence. Telling ESPNFC, “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.”
Regardless, trading your leading scorer is a risk. The theory suggests that with a steadier locker room, the club should improve. Following an extensive set of trades, Seattle’s squad remains strong.
That is in part due to the presence of Clint Dempsey’s name. A huge coup when he arrived at Seattle last season, his first six months back in MLS were not happy.
His return to familiar surroundings with Fulham may have been seen as the chance to reignite the spark inside the striker. Instead it seemed to plunge him further into a rut. A handful of appearances, he departed the pitch promptly after his final game for the club against Chelsea.
“I’m grateful to Fulham for allowing me to come back on loan, where it all kind of started for me in Europe,” Dempsey told Bleacher Report this week. “There were other clubs that I had options to go to, but Fulham has always kind of been like home to me.”
Speaking on the benefits of his time at Craven Cottage, Dempsey added: “I wanted to come back and get back to playing with some of the best competition, work on my fitness and form and try to help the team as much as I could.”
Also forced to juggle the pressure of the World Cup in Brazil, it’s a lot for Dempsey to wrestle with. It’s a pressure that has not spread to his manager. Calm amid a storm of conjecture, Schmid told ESPNFC:
“We need Dempsey in the final third as often as possible. Positionally, that’s the way he’ll get lined up so he can get into those areas of the field. [Formation-wise], that might vary a bit from game to game. Overall, he’s going to be one of those four attacking options for sure.”
With Kenny Cooper now also in the mix, Seattle has the potential to be a dangerous attacking force. A former Timber, Cooper brings a big physical presence that could compliment the pace of Martins well.
The Nigerian certainly thinks so, telling mlssoccer.com: “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.”
Underpinned by the continued presence of Osvaldo Alonso, the club’s backline will also need a significant improvement if Seattle are to reach their potential. Shipping 15 goals in their last seven regular season games, once again on paper the club’s pickups long strong.
An opportunity for Schmid to show how he can forge a strong locker room, Seattle are rightly seen as one of the league’s strongest sides.
However with the emergence of Toronto FC, as well as a Portland Timbers side bursting with potential, the Sounders need to show that they are just as dangerous on the field, as they are on paper.