There have been no big names connected with the 2010 Seattle Sounders FC roster this training camp, despite best guesses that the club still has expansion allocation money to spend. Instead, we have heard consistent talk about keeping the gang together and raising expectations for individual performances. There is a sports axiom that goes if you stand pat (with what you’ve got) you are standing still. Or, if you aren’t moving forward, you’re moving backwards. Are the Sounders right to put trust in the club they built last year, without any experienced upgrades, getting better in 2010?
Here’s a headline for you: Schmid expects 35% more out of Zakuani. It’s the kind of thing we’ve been hearing this training camp. Why get a new left winger when you believe the current one is just beginning to shine? “We expect him to make better decisions. I think that he had a number of situations last year where he got in,” Sigi Schmid told Prost Amerika of Zakuani. “Where he either got behind the defense, or he got opportunities, good looks on goals and so forth, and we didn’t always come out with the best results. So if we can get him to up that ratio to like 25 or 30 or 35%, where we get something out of it when he gets those good looks, that’s going to help us at the end of the day, our goal production.”
While last camp was all about scrambling together a squad, 2010 seems to be about taking what you’ve got and ‘tweaking it a bit.’ “We definitely have higher expectations now,” Nate Jaqua recently told the P-I. “As long as some of the younger guys grow and the older guys bring what they brought last year as well, then I think we’ve got a good chance. But what we really have to strive on is consistency. At times we were one of the best teams – if not arguably the best team – but also at times we were inconsistent and didn’t keep it going as well as we wanted. So we have to learn to be a more consistent team.”
So Adrian Hanauer, Chris Henderson and Sigi Schmid are betting the farm on the 2009 Sounders becoming the new improved 2010 Sounders. While I also see only improvement ahead for Zakuani, I wonder about Jaqua. He had a career high nine goals last year. Is that to be expected again in 2010?
What are realistic personal improvements for Fredy Montero? Freddie Ljungberg? Which 2009 Sounder(s) will discover the talent of heading the ball on goal? Which will step up and deliver better corner kicks? Better free kick tries? Better service from the right side of midfield? Montero would do well to repeat his 2009 season. Freddie Ljungberg’s goals have got to be reasonably to play more matches, make more road trips. More optimistically, as Schmid told the press yesterday, to score more goals and get more assists. Rookie David Estrada seems destined for the right side of the attack.
I think the Sounders are being overly optimistic about all of these guys having improved seasons the very next run out. Ain’t gonna happen. One or two perhaps, but increased productivity from virtually every offensive player? Those odds are ones Hanauer would steer clear of if he was in Vegas.
On the other side of the ball, it could be argued that the Sounders defense over-performed in 2009. How can that group raise their production rates? Keller could avoid a red card, as could Riley. Marshall could stage a repeat of his resurrection from Toronto. Leo Gonzalez certainly can now spred out his talent over a whole season. Hurtado has a year of MLS experience. Still, you’ve got to think it will be tough for that group to be as stingy this year.
Keeping a vibrant, happy, competitive core of players is essential. However, so is bringing in fresh talent to ‘take that next step.’ In 2009 Sounders FC were, as Jaqua rightly points out, inconsistent. They looked great early, tumbled in the middle, had offensive woes at home, and then eeked into the playoffs. Once there they were shut out twice by an average Houston side.
Zakuani should be better in 2010. Here he’s seen in one of a handful of exasperating nil-nil draws at Qwest in 2009. (Rick Morrison)
Standing pat has its risks and rewards, but I will be nervous if Seattle enters the 2010 season with no prospects of upgrading the roster with new experienced talent. I’ll be disappointed if after the Collective Bargaining Agreement is finally signed we don’t make a move before the transfer window closes. I’ll cross my fingers and hope for the best if we don’t find more help when the rest of the world closes shop in July for the world cup.
I like our core group, but I don’t like standing pat. We demonstrated in 2009 that we both have the talent to compete, and lack the personnel to perform consistently, score as needed, and win a championship. To think that this has all changed because the guys know each other better is wishful at best, dangerous at worst.
Come on Sounders, give us an experienced striker and another midfield attacking option. Then we’ll take our chances.
See another viewpoint on this subject from SounderAtHeart.com’s Dave Clark.