SEATTLE - Sigi Schmid said Wednesday he expects Major League Soccer to undergo one of the busiest and most transformative offseasons in its history this winter, and that major change could very well come to the Seattle Sounders as well.
Schmid, who Sounders ownership last week confirmed will return as head coach in 2016, echoed concerns that the club will need to get younger next season in pursuit of its first MLS Cup and added that that could be a league-wide trend during the offseason.
“This is probably going to be the most eventful offseason in MLS history,” Schmid told media members. “This is gonna be the toughest year for players. I think more of the middle-income players are going to be squeezed out on various teams, and with a lot of teams, there’s going to be a group of players, and they’ll be supported by a lot of young players underneath.
“For us, that’s probably going to be a change that takes place on our roster.”
Schmid didn’t discuss specifics of which players could be moved during the offseason – the club has until Dec. 1 to make decisions on existing contracts and options – but he did hint that the club will engage in a busier offseason than last year, when the club returned the bulk of their starters after winning the 2014 Supporters’ Shield.
“A juggler sometimes has three or four balls in the air, I think we’ve probably got about 10 in the air right now,” Schmid said. “Once one of those balls hits the ground, that might determine what the next one is. But at this stage, a lot of things are up in the air.”
Perhaps chief among the current issues is the future of defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, who has recently been linked to a potential move out of Seattle after seven seasons with the club. Sounders General Manager and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey said last week that he was aware of the rumors and that he would entertain a potential deal for any player on the Sounders roster, and Schmid said Wednesday he was unsure what will come next for the four-time club MVP.
Alonso, 30, was hampered by injuries at times throughout the season and appeared in career-low 22 games for the Sounders during the regular season. He suffered a groin injury during the season finale on Oct. 25 that ultimately kept him out of the postseason, the second straight year he’s missed time in the playoffs due to injury.
“Ozzie’s in the same position as a number of other players are, in the sense that sometimes your hands are tied as to what you can do,” Schmid said. “You have to listen to what other teams say. Ozzie’s been a great soldier for this club and been a very important member of this team, and hopefully that’ll continue on. But at this time, I couldn’t say which way it’s going to go.
“My biggest thing is that I want Ozzie to return to full health and be able to play a complete season and be available for us in the playoffs. That’s what hurt us in the past couple years.”
Lagerwey insisted to media via a conference call Wednesday that the club will have to get younger over the next few years, and Schmid echoed that idea, saying that the club is also focusing on solidifying a starter at left back, improving the depth in the midfield and adding pace on the wings.
“There’s been a big thing made about young and old,” Schmid said. “All I know is, there are only two kinds of players: good players and bad players. So obviously if you can’t run, you move from the category of good player to bad player. We have a number of good players on our team and age doesn’t matter, but we have to become faster, more athletic in key parts on the field and we have to do a better job of keeping possession of the ball and moving forward as a group.”
However the Sounders look to improve during a busy offseason, Schmid will lead the way for the eighth consecutive year next season. Sounders Majority Owner Adrian Hanauer announced last week that Schmid will stay on as head coach next season, and Lagerwey said Wednesday “there wasn’t a real discussion” about whether or not Schmid would be let go.
Schmid, for his part, signed a three-year contract extension prior to the 2015 season and said Wednesday that while he never presumed he would return, he wasn’t greatly concerned about ownership’s decision.
“It wasn’t anything I was worried about. It wasn’t anything where I was saying, “Oh my God, what’s going to happen?’” he said. “I know the business. Bora Milutinović told me a long time ago that as a coach, you always have a suitcase packed, because eventually you’re going to leave. I know one day here my time is going to end. Hopefully it will continue on, and what I’m most appreciative of is being able to have another opportunity to bring this elusive thing called the MLS Cup to our club.”