What went right?
In their second year of existence, Seattle Sounders FC once again made the playoffs and earned their second consecutive Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Rave Green finished the 2010 regular season with a total of 14 wins, two more than in 2009.
The defense continued to be one of the Sounders' strengths. Keeper Kasey Keller and his defenders notched 11 shutouts during the season. The veteran goalie also earned five MLS Save of the Week awards, and recognition for the MLS Save of the Year.
Seattle set the MLS attendance record with an average of 36,173 supporters per match. A Qwest Field crowd of 31,311 in October was the largest ever for the Open Cup final.
What went wrong?
Expectations were high for Seattle's advancement deep into the playoffs. This lofty goal met harshly with the reality of the Sounders' inability to score in the postseason. The Rave Green managed one lone goal in the two-match series against the LA Galaxy and promptly crashed out.
Key injuries contributed to the Sounders' inconsistency. Forward Nate Jaqua returned in June and had success in the U.S. Open Cup play, scoring five goals during the competition. Yet he failed to fully recover from his lower abdominal problems and scored one goal during the regular season. Defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and midfielder Brad Evans saw their playing time end early after suffering season-ending knee injuries.
Midfielder Steve Zakuani put the sophomore jinx to rest by notching ten goals and six assists in MLS competitions. The former University of Akron speedster won two Player of the Week awards and assisted on four game-winning tallies. Zakuani also made his first international debut the Democratic Republic of Congo in a 3-1 friendly defeat to Mali in November.
The Sounders expected to be in the upper echelon of MLS's premier teams with midfielder and Designated Player Freddie Ljungberg playing a strong role in the lineup.
A slow start, however, forced the Seattle side to make a late run to earn a spot in the postseason. At the end of June, the Sounders were in seventh place in the Western Conference with a 4-7-3 record. Seattle eventually finished in fourth place with 48 points (14-10-6).
The turnaround occurred once midfielder Freddie Ljungberg was traded to the Chicago Fire in late July. He was at the center of controversy with teammates and management. Prior to the start of the 2010 season, Ljungberg hesitated about returning to MLS and looked at European options while players and management worked to avert a strike. He did finally make it to camp, but Ljungberg's off-the-field issues and ineffectiveness on the pitch contributed to his eventual departure. The Swede's 2010 statistics while with Seattle amounted to no goals and three assists in 15 games.
Despite double digit goals by forwards Fredy Montero and Zakuani, and the late season acquisition of striker Blaise Nkufo, the Sounders failed to score when it mattered most – in the playoffs. Seattle still needs to identify a crunch-time scorer who can find the back of the net in critical situations.
Seattle will do better in 2011…
If they are able to find another goal scorer from the midfield and advance beyond the first round of the playoffs. Expectations are higher than ever. Supporters, players and management alike will not be satisfied with anything less than an appearance in the MLS Cup final.
Seattle will do worse in 2011…
If the club once again gets off to a slow start and fail to solve their inconsistent scoring. The quality of play in MLS continues to improve, and the road to the playoffs will be difficult if the Sounders replicate last year's disappointing first half performance. Finding offensive consistency will be the biggest factor in preventing a decline in the standings.
Player to watch in 2011?
Nkufo arrived in Seattle after completing stints in the Dutch league and World Cup competitions. The 35-year-old forward provided several timely goals and assists, but appeared to tire after a long season. However, Nkufo should be well rested for the upcoming campaign. Despite his age, he could be ready for a breakout year with the Sounders.
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