The Sounders were one game away from reaching MLS Cup in 2012.
At Tuesday’s year-end press conference, owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer and head coach Sigi Schmid addressed how the club would approach making efforts to achieve that goal in 2013.
Allocation Money will be scarce
The Sounders have had a steady flow of Allocation Money to help them in navigating the salary cap in each of their first four MLS seasons. Hanauer emphasized early that much of that flow would not be available in 2013, as the Sounders previously received extra rewards after winning the US Open Cup each of the previous years, along with the league’s expansion and some transactions.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us in terms of who we are able to bring back,” Hanauer said.
Several players are due pay increases and while Hanauer expects change to the roster this year – like he does every off-season – he stopped short of calling for significant changes to the core of the team as some MLS teams have indicated. Real Salt Lake, for one, has made very public their plans to break up the core of the team that has reached the playoffs in each of the last five seasons.
Being the first season that the Sounders didn’t win a cup, however, does not influence that decision.
“If we had won a Cascadia Cup and finished eighth in the league and eliminated immediately and hadn’t qualified for the quarterfinals of Champions League, I think we would have considered this a less successful season than it was,” Hanauer said. “Winning a trophy and not being a very good team is certainly not what we’re after.”
No Expansion Draft in 2012
For the first time since 2006, MLS will not have an Expansion Draft this year.
In the past three seasons, the club has lost Sebastien Le Toux, Sanna Nyassi, Nathan Sturgis and James Riley in the Expansion Draft, but this year that isn’t a factor they will have to account for.
“It’s nice from an anxiety standpoint for the club and the players, but in terms of how we plan for the future, it’s probably not very substantive in how we plan for the off-season,” Hanauer said.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber indicated in a conference call on Monday that the league is striving to make New York the 20th MLS club, with a target for expansion in 2016.
Seattle can win with their DPs
The Sounders FC has been among the best teams in MLS for the last four years and a big reason for that has been the play of their Designated Players, especially when compared to other teams around the league, with the LA Galaxy being the most glaring exception.
However, that has also been an issue for the Sounders.
Fredy Montero had 13 goals and eight assists in MLS play and 17 goals and 13 assists overall. Only two players finished higher than Montero in both categories – Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry.
Meanwhile, Mauro Rosales was third in the league with 13 assists, matching his total from 2011 when he was named Newcomer of the Year.
Christian Tiffert came to the club midseason and, while he didn’t have the instant statistical impact of players like Federico Higuain in Columbus or Boniek Garcia in Houston, the team won with him in the lineup, going 5-3-3 in his 11 regular season starts.
“Overall, if you compare that to the production of some of the DPs around the league, the production is pretty good,” Schmid said. “There are very few that exceed that. A couple of them are on one team, unfortunately for us.”
Where the disparity has been greatest has been in the playoffs and that is where the team would like to see the greatest improvements. Over the last two years, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and David Beckham have risen to the occasion in the playoffs to get the Galaxy to the MLS Cup Final in two consecutive years.
Getting to that point doesn’t simply mean spending more money, though, as much as it means spending that money wisely. The New York Red Bulls, for example, have spent nearly $14 million on their three designated players and haven’t reached a Conference Championship since going to three DPs.
Toronto FC also spends significantly on the DPs and hasn’t reached the playoffs in their club’s history.
The off-season will be important on the field
With the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal scheduled to start in the first week of March, the Sounders will have a quick turnaround this off-season. Learning from their experience in last year’s quarterfinal series against Santos Laguna, the Sounders will adjust their approach this year to better prepare to face Tigres in this year’s quarterfinal series.
That means that it is important to the team that nobody came out of the season in need of off-season surgery and that it is unlikely that any players with the team will be heading overseas to train with big clubs in Europe, as Steve Zakuani and Osvaldo Alonso did with Everton prior to the 2011 season.
“We’ve got to get into it a little bit quicker than some teams because we have two very important games coming up with Tigres right at the beginning of next season,” Schmid said. “The Champions League is very important to us, so we’ve got to snap to it and be ready to go when we start training.”