We Sounders have tried to stop dwelling on "what could have been" by focusing on the promise of next season. With this comes the inevitable (and enjoyable) "rosterbating" on Sounder at Heart. With over 100 comments on Knuckles' post , I know I'm not the only one thinking about this right now. What I might be, however, is one of the few who thinks that almost no change at all might be the perfect prescription.
Lose-Lose made a recent post in which he (she?) predicts a fairly broad re-tooling/dismantling. He has no fewer than 8 players as "leans to leaving" or "probably leaves". Another 10 players are listed as "toss up"...meaning another 5 players gone? This basically amounts to a major rebuild and probably represents the extreme end of the "major changes are needed" camp. I hope to put forth a case for the exact opposite. My feeling is that we have already made the majority of the changes that we need to make...we just need to be patient (at a time when it may be really hard to do so) and wait for our investment to pay dividends..
If we had one glaring short-coming this past season, it was our backup goalkeeping. I feel safe in saying that Gspurning met or exceeded all expectations this year. He was and is incredibly solid on the field and downright fun to have around. However, when he went down with a hip injury, the Sounders were forced to start Bryan Meredith, who is a promising talent, but is very young and inexperienced. The drop in positional performance was severe. While we haven't made much use of Marcus Hahnemann, he IS the solution for next year. Given the same situation next year, I feel fully confident that Marcus, after a full pre-season with the team, will be not just an able replacement, but a top 5 MLS keeper when he steps on the field. Our 1/2 keeper combination is tops in the league now. Period. No change needed here, though I imagine that two of the remaining three keepers (Meredith, Ford, Webber) will be off to new homes.
Our back line has been the focus of much fan consternation..and I certainly think it's fair to look at every position and consider how we might improve oursleves. However, with Gspurning in goal, we gave up a league low .73 per game while managing to involve our outer backs in the attack more than any previous MLS Sounders squad. We have three starting-quality center backs and an experienced backup who can play outside back as well. In addition, we have Duran (who is on the mend) to potentially compete for a spot. Brad Evans and Mike Seamon both are becoming more familiar with playing spot roles in back. Johansson and Burch have had only one season playing under Sigi's system. They will enter next season with a familiarity both with their teammates and coaches that can only serve to help the overall defensive product. This was, on the whole, a very good defense. I'm open to change here...but it would be a mistake to undervalue what we have now.
Our midfield is an embarassment of riches. Can you think of a team in the league who wouldn't trade their squad of MFs for ours? Tiffert and Mario are pair with huge, huge potential. They simply haven't played with the Sounders and Sigi very long. Imagine the difference a full training camp for these two will make! This is especially true for Mario, who simply was in and out too much (answering his country's call to duty) over too short a time to ever get a high level of comfort with his teammates. The importance of this can't be understated. When you watch him play for Honduras with teammates who know where he will go and whose next move he can anticipate, he is special. He WILL develop this in Seattle. I have no doubt. Then there is Zak...who is clearly (finally!) looking healthy. Now imagine him with a full preseason's training. With these two at full stregth, much pressure can be taken off of Mauro and we can get more mileage out of him. I think we all felt pretty good about our midfield this year. Next year we can expect an upgrade in Mario, Tiffert and Zak without ever making a single move. Oh - let's not forget - Rose and Caskey won't be rookies. There's that too.
Our forwards - Eddie and Freddy. What's not to love? Ochoa and Estrada are bargains off the bench with the latter offering some positional flexibility. Then there is the recovering Sodade - a freakish athlete whose combine leap forced them to get a new measuring device as he outleapt the one they had in place. Whatever he might bring will be pure bonus. We lost Estrada to a broken foot at a very unfortuate time. He was just starting to show signs of turning a real corner. There is no reason not to expect him to pick up where he left off next spring.
Lastly, there will be aquisitions via the draft and invitees who can come in and compete for depth spots...any of whom may improve us as a team. Look at Andy Rose (draft) and Alex Caskey (invite). Adrian is great at finding these little pieces. I have no doubt he will do so again in the spring, and they will improve us in subtle but real ways.
A no-change Sounders roster will be a better Sounders roster than the one that just made LA look outmatched. We'll enter next season a much better team than the one that started 2012 - even better than the one that finished 2012 - if we can just keep the talent we have right now. That may or may not be possible. Europe may come calling for Ozzie or Freddy, and I certainly wouldn't want to hold their careers back. If the offer is right, one or both of them may head accross the pond. In either case, we should be left with buckets full of money to find replacements. It may be that Parke demands more money than Adrian can afford, in which case we are shopping for a new CB. That may be unavoidable. However,I really hope we can be patient and watch the seeds we have sewn grow tall. Being patient can be hard...but massive change can be much harder (ask Vancouver), and should only be undertaken when really needed. Don't take a hatchet to this team. It needs a fine cloth and some polish - nothing more.