As the off-season is now under way, we talked with Sounders FC technical director Chris Henderson about the 2012 season and how the Sounders will prepare for 2013.
Question: After a third place finish in the West, another U.S. Open Cup final, reaching the Western Conference Championship and qualifying for another CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals … What’s your assessment of how this team finished the 2012 season?
Chris Henderson: “If you look at the team as a group, I think this was the best Sounders team we’ve had. Obviously we’re disappointed losing in penalty kicks and not winning four straight Open Cups. That was a hard one for all of us. But a credit to the guys. Really, we’re still undefeated with the last game being a tie. That was hard, but it was a great effort all the way through. In the league, we were close – only a point behind Salt Lake. We had done well in the league and put ourselves in the position to get in the playoffs again. We feel like we’re building toward a better showing the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. I think the character of this team is a little bit, getting there and trying it and the next year doing it. It’s a little bit about building that belief and I think we made some really big steps in the team culture and belief in each other and belief in the club and what we can do. That’s what we really need to work on in the off-season is keeping the team culture and build that so when players come in, they fit in the culture and know what we’re all about.”
Q: This is the first year that the team hasn’t won a trophy, but do you feel like this team progressed further and met those expectations beyond previous years?
Henderson: “I do feel like the performance and the way we played was fantastic. We always feel like we can get better and we made a lot of positive steps. It’s going in the right direction. But it’s disappointing when you don’t bring a trophy home. We got used to coming home with one or two trophies to put in the trophy case each year. But you’re going to have those years where you have a strong year and something doesn’t quite click in the playoffs and you don’t get there. I do think that taking a step further this year, there are a lot of positives to take out of it and there’s a lot to build on – a good foundation – here. With any team, there are going to be changes. I think everyone expects it, but the mentality of our players is that they feel like they need to do some work in the off-season after a little rest and come back strong next year.”
Q: Last year there was a lot of change on this team – there were 14 players that weren’t on the previous year’s roster. Do you anticipate similar changes next year?
Henderson: “Any time you’re trying to keep a group together, you’re hitting against the salary cap. Those are things that we have to manage and each year, it’s a challenge in terms of the constraints of the league and the way it’s set up. Even if you go about a season and you don’t want to make any changes, there are still some changes you need to make – either for the cap or offers that come your way or players want to be traded or go home to their country. There are always some things that come along with that. There will for sure be changes to our team. How many is going to play out in the next few months.”
Q: How does the experience from last year’s quarterfinals of Champions League affect how you go into the off-season and, maybe more importantly, how do you approach the preseason?
Henderson: “Going into preseason and playing Tigres in the quarters, the one thing we learned before was that maybe we weren’t ready to play that high of a caliber of a team twice in a week because we were coming off preseason. I think we’ll be ramping up our preseason a little quicker. I don’t want to speak for our fitness coach Dave Tenney, but I know there are things we learned from that period last year that maybe can help us get ahead for this quarterfinal round. The game we played against Santos in Seattle, we were very good. They said we were as good as any Mexican team in the league. That set up that second game, where we started to get fatigued early and they took it to us down there. I think there are a lot of things we learned from that and we are going to try to use that to our advantage.”
That concludes part one of the conversation with Chris Henderson. Check back on Thursday for the second part of the Q&A, when Henderson will discuss the direction of the Sounders in 2013.