In their first year of existence, the Sounders became the second expansion team in MLS history to make the playoffs. They also won their first piece of silverware by walking away with the 2009 U.S. Open Cup. The only other team to exceed Seattle’s success was the expansion 1998 Chicago Fire, who won the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup.
After the 2009 season, the team’s management adopted a strategy of minimal changes to their season-ending roster. Former USL and MLS Seattle Sounders midfielder Sebastien Le Toux was the only major loss from last year’s squad.
Seattle encountered several stretches during the regular season where goals proved to be elusive. In the playoffs against the Houston Dynamo, Seattle failed to score in the first round home-and-home playoff format. On defense, the team held its own with veteran ‘keeper Kasey Keller in the nets and a solid set of defenders in front of him.
If Seattle is able to gel offensively and gets consistent scoring production from their newest pre-season signees, 2010 could be another year of success in the Emerald City.
Last Season: The Sounders began and ended the 2009 season in strong form. In between, they encountered several scoreless streaks that almost put their playoff hopes in doubt.
The year started with an impressive 3-0 home win against the 2008 MLS Cup runners-up New York Red Bulls before a sellout crowd of 32,523. The Sounders continued to impress with two 2-0 wins against Real Salt Lake at home and their first-ever away win at Toronto.
As the MLS season progressed into May, draws dominated the month. Seattle tied Chicago, L.A., FC Dallas and Columbus all by identical 1-1 scores. The match against Colorado also ended in a draw, but this time the tally was 2-2.
In June, the Sounders managed a record of 2-1-2. Then, the first scoring drought appeared in late July. Starting with the July 25 match, Seattle scored a total of two goals in five games. The next quintet of games saw the Rave Green improve slightly with three strikes into the net.
With the playoffs clearly in sight, the scoring touch reappeared with seven goals in four matches. Seattle entered the post-season as the fifth seed that matched them against the Houston Dynamo. In those two games, the Sounders were held scoreless by Houston’s defense to end their 2009 season.
The U.S. Open Cup matches proved to be less difficult for the MLS’ newest team. They defeated Real Salt Lake, Colorado, USL Portland, Kansas City and Houston on their way to the championship match at D.C. United in early September. Seattle celebrated their first trophy ever after goals from Fredy Montero and Roger Levesque in a 2-1 win.
Besides success on the pitch, the Sounders set the MLS record for highest average attendance at 30,943. Even more impressive were the totals for summer friendlies against Chelsea (65,289) and Barcelona (66,848). During the season, the team twice increased the soccer configuration seating at Qwest Field to meet the increasing demand for tickets.
Dearly Departed: The Sounders decided not to protect fan favorite Sebastien Le Toux, and the Philadelphia Union picked up the midfielder in the 2009 MLS Expansion Draft. The Frenchman netted four goals and seven assists in all competitions last year. In 28 matches totaling 1457 minutes, Le Toux scored once and assisted on three goals. He returns to Seattle in the Union’s inaugural match on March 25.
New faces: David Estrada was the 11th pick in the 2009 SuperDraft. The 5’8” 160 pound rookie midfielder from UCLA scored three goals and had seven assists in his senior year at the California university. Head coach Sigi Schmid spotted him at a combine and was duly impressed to select him in the first round.
Blaise Nkufo, a 34-year-old Dutch league and Swiss international veteran, signed with the Sounders in early March. Nkufo is expected to play for Seattle after his World Cup obligations are completed. The 6’2” 185 pound forward, who was originally born in Zaire (now the Republic of Congo), has scored over 200 goals for club and country. He could be the game changer and physical force that’s currently lacking.
Miguel Montano joined the team a week before the end of training camp. The 18-year-old arrived from Argentina, where he played for the Quilmes AC youth team. He’s a raw talent that is not expected to make an immediate impact. Montano does have quick feet and the pace to be an offensive force as his game matures. His transition to MLS and living in Seattle should be made easier with the mentoring provided by fellow Colombians Fredy Montero and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado.
Kasey Keller (GK) – One of the MLS’ top ‘keepers. Age has not diminished the 40-year-old’s skills or enthusiasm.
Leo Gonzalez (D) – The most offensive-minded defender who will move up to create scoring opportunities.
Tyrone Marshall (D) – The veteran defender can be erratic on defense at times. He does, however, bring experience and leadership in front of Keller.
Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (D) – A strong and physical defender that rarely gets beat.
James Riley (D) – Holds down the right defender slot with workman-like persistence.
Steve Zakuani (M) – Last year’s first round draft pick came to camp in much better shape physically and expectations are high for a breakout year.
Brad Evans (M) – Versatile midfielder/defender with several call-ups to the U.S. national team.
Osvaldo Alonso (M) – Solid and consistent defensive midfielder.
Nate Jaqua (M) – Suffered a training camp groin injury, but is expected to be ready for the regular season opener. With his physical size and presence, he’s capable of scoring in double digits.
Fredy Montero (F) – Seattle’s top offensive weapon will need to be more consistent game-in and game-out. Has to get on the same page offensively with Ljungberg.
Freddie Ljunberg (F) – The most passionate and hardest working player on the team. He could be the key to Seattle’s championship hopes.
Best of the rest:
Keepers: Terry Boss, Chris Eylander
Defenders: Taylor Graham, Patrick Ianni, Jeff Parke, Zach Scott, Tyson Wahl
Midfielders: David Estrada, Stephen King, Sanna Nyassi, Nathan Sturgis, Peter Vagenas Forwards: Michael Fucito, Roger Levesque, Miguel Montano
The Sounders kept their nucleus intact, but are not above making mid-season changes.
Somewhat disturbing in pre-season matches against USL sides Vancouver and Portland were the lack of goals. It could all change once the games mean something. If it doesn’t, expect some personnel changes before the arrival of Blaise Nkufo in July.
General manager and co-owner Adrian Hanauer said as much during a recent interview. He mentioned the team actively scouting new talent in Europe, Africa and South America to ensure a successful season in 2010.
Will the sophomore jinx hit Seattle? The surprise factor will be lacking and teams like nothing better than beating their Northwest brethren. Expect each match to test the Sounders’ physical and mental toughness.
As a result of their U.S. Open Cup win, the Sounders qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League. The question will be if the Sounders have the depth and talent to survive the increased workload.
Predicted placement: Expectations are high after Seattle’s successful 2009 season. Supporters, team officials, and players all have their sights set on a trip to the MLS Cup. They’ll make the playoffs and progress to the finals.
Did you know? Nate Jaqua’s father, Jon Jaqua, played for the Washington Redskins in the early ‘70s. The senior Jaqua’s last game was in 1972 at Super Bowl VII in Los Angeles, where the ‘Skins lost 14-7 to the unbeaten Miami Dolphins.
John Zielonka is the Seattle correspondent for Goal.com
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