Editor's Note: I promoted this FanPost to the FrontPage so more people could read it. - Dave
2013 was a difficult season - relatively speaking - to be a Sounders fan. There were huge highs and lows, but it never felt quite right. Yes, compared to being a Chivas or Toronto fan, it was a joy (though Toronto's supporters will finally get some well-deserved quality 2014). As a spectator and supporter, I still lived and died with each game...but things never felt quite right. There was never a time like late 2011 when things were clicking and I wondered if we could beat really, really good international teams. There was never a time when I truly felt the joy - as a unit - from the squad. Our front office seems to have had a similar experience. They weren't pleased at all and decided it was finally time for major renovation.
If one puts all the "sprinting through vertical barriers" talk aside, there were a number of very clear goals/messages coming from the from the front office regarding building a roster for this season. They would build around a clearly stated core of players - Alonso, Evans and Dempsey - who represent qualities that they value most. Around them they would build a team using the following criteria:
- Find players who will be loyal, give all and put the team above their individual pursuits.
- Find younger players.
- Find more athletic players.
- Find a mix of players and character that will lead to a harmonious and unified locker room.
I think it was also strongly implied that we are specifically looking for players who can stay healthy.
They have been true to their word - methodically so. The first news we got after the season ended was Alonso's DP contract and the resigning of Brad Evans. With Dempsey already very, very well taken care of for 2014, the core was set. Think of this core as analogous to what real estate agents mean when they say a house has "good bones". It means they are going to tear it to the studs. That's more or less what they did.
I suspect that the Eddie Johnson trade was in motion well before the end of year meeting. With EJ to DC United, we sent off a player who they viewed as not meeting points 1, 2 or 4. He showed too much self-focus for their liking. While he is incredibly athletic, he's hitting his 30's. Lastly, it has long been rumored that he was a locker room problem. I loved watching him play. I loved interacting with him on twitter and watching him try to grow as a player and a person. With that said, it seemed pretty obvious that the EJ-well was poisoned and there would be no turning back. The fact that this trade netted bunches of allocation money and was with a team in the East made it as palatable as possible. If there is one thing you need when remodeling a home with "good bones"...it's the money to do it.
Micheal Gspurning was sent packing. This one made me sad. There is no question that he had, by his own standards, a sub-par stretch at a very bad time. With that said, many (almost all) of the goals we allowed during that stretch were not his fault. However, it's the nature of the position. You get credit for keeping a clean sheet when you make one or two easy saves in a game where your defense is stalwart. You take blame for allowing unstoppable goals when they are not. In the end, it wasn't that stretch that led to his release. It was his salary number. With Stefan Frei available, five years younger, and much cheaper, the front office made a difficult decision and let Gspurning go. Again - If there is one thing you need when remodeling a home with "good bones"...it's the money to do it. I hope he does well in Greece and will always wish him well.
Marc Burch was a fairly priced left-footed left back and midfielder. I like him personally. I think in many ways, he was more impressive once he settled into his midfield position than he ever had been at left back. With that said, left back is a very difficult position to fill. Having a player of his quality as a backup at both positions was a relative luxury. So why let him go? I suspect that there were two reasons involved. The first is that the club believes that Dylan Remick is becoming what they hoped he could be. He is clearly a smart guy, loves being a Sounder, is left footed, and is young. His performance at the fitness test this year - in which he was the only Sounder to finish top 5 in all four tests - ticked the last box. In fact, he finished top 4 in all four tests, and thus would have been top 5 even if Deandre Yedlin had been in camp. He is a well-liked, coach-able, athletic, young player who is proud to be a Sounder. This - and the fact that Marc Burch will be 30 this year - likely were the deciding factors in exposing him to re-entry. I, for one, hope he lands on his feet and plays well (with a few notable exceptions/games).
The big blockbuster trade of Patrick Ianni and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado for Anibaba and a draft pick swap (8th for 13th) was all about age and money. Between the two players, they were scheduled to make well over $300k. Both have had extended periods of inaction due to injury. Hurtado will turn 30 just a couple months into the season. Ianni will be 29 and has dealt with one injury after another. By bringing in Chad Marshall, who is a few months younger than Hurtado, and Jalil Anibaba, who is four years younger than Ianni, the Sounders likely shed some salary and age. They then used the draft pick to select centerback Damion Lowe, who apparently may have gone before our original 13th pick. We also certainly (based on history) improved our durability at centerback.
Many of us were probably hoping that we could finally have Mauro Rosales as a non-DP now that his transfer fee had been accounted for. Alas, this was not to be. What we did do was offload another huge chunk of salary and an almost-33 year old for an experienced 23 year old with huge potential AND the 2nd pick in the allocation order. That pick netted us a proven 26 year old at a position of need - Left footed left-sided midfielder Marco Pappa.
It has been made clear that we will be parting ways with Shalrie Joseph. He is one of the all-time MLS greats. He is also about to turn 36 and has lost more than a step. This was a no-brainer for Adrian and crew.
Exposing Steve Zakuani to Porter and the Timbers had to have been difficult. The fact is that Steve is expensive and has been hurt more than he's been healthy. Portland has a coach who loves him and the cap room to roll the dice. It's going to be hard to see him in that uniform, but if we want to get younger, athletic guys who can stay healthy, hard decisions will have to be made. Time will tell how this one works out. The reasons, however, were clear - health and money.
Lastly, we shipped out Adam Moffat to bring in Kenny Cooper and some allocation money. This is the only move we made where - on the surface - we traded a player to bring in an older player. This is misleading. We brought in Cooper to fill the void left from the Eddie Johnson trade. Kenny Cooper is about half a year younger than EJ...and much, much cheaper (than EJ is now). In addition, Cooper seems to be beyond thrilled to be here. Moffat will be 28 in May leaving him neither particularly young nor particularly athletic. Lastly - again - allocation money is essential when doing an MLS-remodel.
Now lets look at the outgoing and incoming (signed) players as groups with their approximate ages:
GK Michael Gspurning (12/9/13 - option declined) - 32.75
D Marc Burch (12/9/13 - option declined) - 29.75
M Blair Gavin (12/9/13 - option declined) - 25
F Steve Zakuani (12/9/13 - out of contract) - 26
M Mauro Rosales (12/11/13 - traded to Chivas USA) - 33
M Adam Moffat (12/13/13 - traded to FC Dallas) - 27.75
F Eddie Johnson (12/17/13 - traded to D.C. United) - 29.75
D Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (1/15/14 - traded to Chicago) - 29.75
D Patrick Ianni (1/15/14 - traded to Chicago) - 28.5
M Shalrie Joseph (contract will be bought out) - 35.75
Apx Avg Age: 29.8
Apx Median Age: 29.75
GK Stefan Frei (12/10/13 - trade from Toronto) 27.75
F Tristan Bowen (12/11/13 - trade from Chivas) 23
D Chad Marshall (12/12/13 - trade from Columbus) 29.5
F Kenny Cooper (12/13/13 - trade from FC Dallas) 29.25
M Aaron Kovar (1/9/14 - Homegrown) 20.25
F Sean Okoli (1/9/14 - Homegrown) 21 (on Monday, 2/3)
F Chad Barrett (1/9/14 - Re-Entry Stage 2) 28.75
D Jalil Anibaba (1/15/14 - trade from Chicago) 25.25
D Damion Lowe (1/16/14 - SuperDraft) 20.75
M Marco Pappa (1/31/14 - allocation) 26.25
Apx Avg Age: 25.2
Apx Median Age: 25.75
Is there any question that the front office has been true to their word? They have done exactly what they said they would do. If you then look at the trialists, invitees and unsigned draft picks, the trend is illustrated further:
# invited trialist
* unsigned draftee
% rumored trialist yet to arrive
Aside from Jason Morrison, who is 29.5 years old, no one on that list is older than 26. Most are closer to 21. In the end, only two or three of these players will make the team. With the addition of Pappa and the fact that we will have purchased Joseph's contract, we'll have precious little wiggle room on the roster.
As the smoke clears, it is apparent that the front office did (more or less) exactly what they told us they would do. They focused on character and locker room - on youth and athleticism - and built around a core of identified leaders. Big changes are nerve-wracking for sure, but this is an exciting time. We have a camp full of players who want to be there - who are hungry. They are excited to represent Seattle. This may be the most athletic team we've ever had. The promise is great, but it will require a deft hand from Sigi to make it happen.
March is literally right around the corner. At this point, the aforementioned "youth and athleticism" is abstract or assumed...but we don't have to wait long to give it the eye test. Seattle Sounders FC vs San Jose on Feb 5th - that's Wednesday - at 10am PST on mlssoccer.com