How well players get along with teammates and coaches can often determine the success of a sports season. Team-bonding is a point of emphasis as Seattle Sounders FC launch their 2014 soccer schedule this Saturday afternoon against MLS Cup champion Sporting Kansas City.
In 2013 the “Rave Green” struggled in the final months of league competition, and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by rival Portland. While Seattle had perhaps its most talented roster in club history, it was clear to many outside observers there were distractions and negative issues impacting Sounders FC.
Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid addressed the issue during an interview last week on 1090TheFan. “For us it was time to make some changes and move some moving parts. Obviously last season ended on a disappointing note because it just didn’t mix right per se.”
Towards the end of last season, forward Eddie Johnson openly made pleas for a better contract. Seattle couldn’t make it happen due to salary cap constraints and wound up trading Johnson to D.C. United. Team captain and leading assist man Mauro Rosales was also sent to Chivas USA for young forward Tristan Bowen.
Coach Schmid also made wholesale changes to the heart of Sounders FC defense, trading Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni to the Chicago Fire for Jalil Anibaba. Seattle did not renew the contract of starting goalkeeper Michael Gspurning. Switzerland’s Stefan Frei is now in the nets along with Seattle Pacific University alum Marcus Hahnemann.
Most important, Sounders FC found several experienced players who wanted to be part of the best organization in MLS.
“Especially in the case of defender Chad Marshall, who spent 10 years in Columbus, and liked his time there, but was ready for a change of pace,” said Schmid. “I think all of that, the mix of players right now, they’re working hard for each other. We also got a little younger by adding some home grown players Sean Okoli (Federal Way), and Aaron Kovar (Seattle).”
Schmid is excited about the scoring potential of veteran Kenny Cooper paired with Nigerian international Obafemi Martins. Seattle also acquired two midfielders, Marco Pappa of Guatemala, and Mexico’s Gonzalo Pineda , to dictate tempo and create dangerous scoring chances. Their presence should take some pressure of Clint Dempsey in the middle of the pitch.
Season number six starts at home Saturday for Sounders FC with a 12 p.m. PT first kick at CenturyLink Field. Seattle has a 3-2-0 record in season openers. The match will be nationally televised on NBC Sports Network with John Strong and Kyle Martino in the booth.
Sporting Kansas City remains relatively unchanged from the club that won MLS Cup last fall. Veteran goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen retired, so KC traded for Andy Gruenebaum of Columbus Crew. Kansas City’s defense has been among the league’s best with U.S. National Teamer Matt Besler and MLS Cup MVP Aurelien Collin.
-Bill Swartz, 1090TheFan-
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