Michael Gspurning wore his emotions clearly on his face Thursday night.
It was a disappointing end to a frustrating season. The Sounders FC goalkeeper was wrought with that sense after Seattle fell 3-2 in the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals with the Portland Timbers to lose the series 5-3.
“The whole season is now going through my mind. The good parts, the bad parts – it’s all going through my mind. It’s tough to say in words what I’m feeling,” Gspurning said. “We are empty. We wanted it so badly to make the turnaround. It’s over. The season is over.”
The season was packed with highs and lows and started off with both at the same time.
The club won just one of its first nine matches across all competitions, but that one victory was a big one. The 3-1 win over Tigres in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series marked the first series win for an MLS side over a Mexican team in the tournament, as Seattle posted a 3-2 comeback win in the series after falling behind 1-0 in the first leg one week earlier. A 2-1 loss to Santos Laguna in the semifinals left the team disappointed, but also aware of the progress it had made over the previous year, when Santos ousted them with a humbling 7-3 quarterfinal series win.
With the Champions League in the rearview mirror, Sounders FC went unbeaten over the next six matches to improve to 4-3-3 after an 0-3-1 start. Losses in three of the next four road matches stalled some of that momentum, but could not stop a torrential run that saw Seattle bulldoze its way to eight wins over the course of nine matches. A 14-match home unbeaten streak helped Seattle climb to first in the race for the Supporters’ Shield on September 13 with a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink Field.
At different points, Seattle had different players leading the charge offensively, due in large part to the regular roster shuffling because of injuries, suspensions and international absences. Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle all were top scorers at different stages and Johnson finished with nine regular season goals, closely trailed with eight each for Martins and Neagle.
The late-season addition of Clint Dempsey provided a spark, as Seattle went 4-1-0 in his first five matches. However, that rhythm was interrupted by more injuries and international call-ups and Sounders FC finished the regular season winless in its final seven.
Defensively, Sounders FC was as good as any team in the league until that final stretch, allowing 13 goals in the final five matches to escalate the goals against average from 1.00 through 29 matches to 1.24 for the season.
To the pivotal players on the team, though, the issue wasn’t players or gameplan, but in the execution from game to game.
“I’ve always been confident in everyone that’s here. That’s never been a question. I’m always going to be that way. You play for the badge and you play for the guys in the locker room that you see every day,” midfielder Brad Evans said. “I thought we had all the pieces, but we fell short.”
Now, after the conclusion of the fifth season in Major League Soccer, Sounders FC will look to the offseason, lick its wounds and prepare for the 2014 season. Not everyone will be back next year, as is the nature of professional soccer. However the direction of any changes will be determined over the coming weeks.
“We’ll meet with players at the end of the season and talk to them and make our plans for next year. Every year there are changes and there will be some changes to the group as well,” said Head Coach Sigi Schmid, who also expressed his own feelings about coming back in 2014. “My desire is to return. I don’t want to walk away. There’s a good base of talent and a good base of people that we can work with for next year. But there are improvements and there are changes that we have to make. I think we have some pieces, I think we need to add some.”