Even for the most faithful Seattle Sounders supporters among us, this has been a bit of a rough off-season. The numbers fairly illustrate why: Nine players that were part of the team during the final game of the season are no longer here. Those players represent more than 14,000 minutes of all-competition playing time or about 29 percent of the total minutes played by the team. Among those losses were 100 percent of their MLS goalkeeper minutes and 39 percent of their defender minutes.
To be fair, not all of those losses were unexpected. Kasey Keller, who alone represents 42 of the 158 starts the team lost, was always planning to retire at the end of the season. Few among us really expected Taylor Graham, Terry Boss or Miguel Montano to play significant roles on this team next year for a variety of reasons. There are more than a few people who won't miss Nate Jaqua or Pat Noonan at all.
But the losses of Erik Friberg, Tyson Wahl and James Riley are a bit different. Sure, losing one of those guys to the expansion draft or through some other method could have been reasonably expected, but to have all three depart the team came as a bit of a blow, especially in light of all the the other changes.
What makes this all a little harder is the reality that the Sounders don't really have much to show for it. Sure, they've signed goalkeeper Michael Gspurning and re-signed midfielder Mauro Rosales, but those were largely expected moves. They also got some money from transferring Friberg and some allocation for the Wahl trade, but we haven't seen anything come from that added flexibility yet.
On this Christmas Eve, though, there is something that we can be somewhat thankful for: The core of the team that won its third straight U.S. Open Cup, finished with the second most points in the league, led MLS in scoring and qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals is still largely intact.
For the most part, the offseason changes have been mostly to players who didn't necessarily fit into the longterm plans of this team. As great as Keller was, he was probably here one year longer than many expected him to be when he first signed. Boss, Graham, Noonan and Jaqua were all on the wrong side of 30. Montano was taking longer to develop than either he or the Sounders coaches had patience for.
That leaves us with Friberg, Riley and Wahl.
If you were paying close attention at the end of the season, the losses of Riley and Wahl shouldn't have come as a huge shock. Both were notably absent in the Sounders' final game and their positions were called out as a potential places for improvement by Sigi Schmid in post-season comments he made to the press.
A significant chunk of Wahl's minutes will likely be eaten up by Leo Gonzalez, whose only significant disadvantage in comparison is on set-pieces. Neither Gonzalez nor Wahl are exactly shut down defenders and both have a decent passing touch. Assuming there's someone on the field capable of swinging in corner kicks from the right side, the Sounders shouldn't really miss Wahl much. Michael Tetteh remains an option to pick up some minutes as well, but those will likely be limited to early round Open Cup games.
Riley's replacement is not as obvious, for better or worse. Heiner Mora, we know, is one of the players they've targeted, although they are definitely casting their gaze wider than that. Either way, it's a safe bet that they aren't planning to open training camp with Zach Scott as their only option there.
The loss of Friberg, no matter how you cut it, was unfortunate if understandable. The good news is that the Sounders can essentially claim to have come out ahead during his one-year stint in the sense that he wasn't expensive to bring in, provided reasonable bang for the buck while he was here and nets them a little bit roster flexibility. Replacing him will probably be the most difficult task, as he was a positive influence on and off the field, but is hardly impossible.
Best I can tell, there aren't any immediate plans to look beyond the players already on the roster to fill the hole created by Friberg's departure. Chances are, we're going to see some kind of mix of Alvaro Fernandez and Brad Evans filling that role. Despite Friberg's departure, the Sounders are still pretty stacked in the midfield. One of Steve Zakuani, Evans and Fernandez are almost always going to be on the bench, which is a pretty nice problem to have.
For all the turnover, it's also worth remembering that nearly 95 percent of their all-competition goal-scoring is coming back and the 14 assists they lost account for just 19 percent of their all-competition total. The things that made this team very good last year will overwhelming be wearing Rave Green in 2012.