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Off-Season Awaits

After finishing a season that included a second Open Cup championship and a second apperance in the playoffs, the Sounders FC now looks to the off-season.

On Sunday, the Sounders FC’s second season came to a close with a 2-1 loss to the LA Galaxy, ending the Western Conference Semifinal with a 3-1 aggregate goal tally.

It ended a season that saw that Sounders make their first appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League and earn another berth in the next CCL by winning their second straight Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.  They finished with more wins, goals, shutouts and points than they did in 2009.

On Monday, the team returned to Seattle and began the process of building toward 2011, hoping to further climb the ladder in all competitions.

“After the match is before the match,” head coach Sigi Schmid said.  “Our next match is next season, so for me it’s already a process of deciding which are the nucleus pieces that we can build with and where we need to get a little bit better.”

Seattle is one of only two teams in MLS that had two players score at least ten goals.  Seattle had Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani each with ten goals.  The only other team to match that figure was the Colorado Rapids, who got 14 goals from Omar Cummings and 13 from Conor Casey.  However, add Blaise Nkufo’s five goals after he was added in midseason and the Sounders have a formidable scoring trio.

Seattle will also look to include Alvaro Fernandez more into the scheme.  Also added at midseason, Fernandez got caught in a logjam in the midfield as Nathan Sturgis and Sanna Nyassi emerged as quality starters alongside stalwarts Zakuani and Osvaldo Alonso.

On defense, Seattle had more shutouts than 2009, but at times struggled with their consistency in front of Kasey Keller, having five games where they let in two goals, four when they allowed three and one four-goal onslaught from the Galaxy.

Those figures, and the second straight first-round playoff departure, leave the Sounders hungry for improvement in the 2011 season.

“We’re going on the right path.  We just need to keep doing what we’re doing.  We’re a very young team and this is a good experience for our careers, wherever we may go,” Zakuani said.  “When we come back next year, we can build off this and if we manage to do that it will be a good year next year.  We can hold our heads up proud – it’s been a good year.  We just have to be better.”

In the Galaxy, Seattle sees a team that has the veteran savvy to be able to play at a high level in a playoff atmosphere.  With a midfield that averaged 23 years old, Seattle was outmatched when it came to experience in the midfield and LA was able to take advantage.  While the experience of the past two seasons certainly will help, that may be an area Seattle looks to improve.

“I think they’re a little more grizzly.  There is an edge to their team, a little more physicality for their team,” Schmid said of the Galaxy.  “Everybody knows their role, everybody does their role.”

The grizzliest of the Sounders players, 40-year-old Keller, has expressed a desire to return to the team in 2011 and said he hopes to soon reach an agreement with the club.

As the club looks to build toward 2011, they must think of the 2010 MLS Expansion Draft.  Slated for November 24, the draft will allow the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps to select from a list of unprotected players from each team in MLS.  Each team can protect 11 players and can lose a maximum of two players.

While Seattle may lose two players on that date, they may add some on December 8, when the league holds the first Re-Entry Draft.  The second stage of the Re-Entry Draft is on December 15.

Schmid was asked if the club will build to simply improve the team or build a team to combat specific teams in MLS that may be playoff opponents.

“There’s still nobody that we fear.  It’s just a matter of us becoming a better team,” Schmid said.  “We have to become more experienced.  We have to become hardened.  We have to play with a discipline and a craftiness that LA has right now that we don’t have.”