Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sounders v.2013: "I (still) have a bad feeling about this"

I’ve been waiting for the dust to settle before opining on Sounders v.2013.
The off-season is nearly over and the dust still hasn’t settled. Rumors keep flying, and Sigi is almost purposefully confusing. Even winning the Desert Diamond Cup with a squad of reserves and trialists doesn’t calm my nerves. It’s like we’re coming out of hyper-drive into an asteroid field, and … what’s that small moon over there?
That’s no small moon, that’s los Tigres de UANL. Except on this occasion the rebels (Traore) won’t rally in time and the Death Star (Tigres) will destroy their secret base on Yavin IV (Champions League).
Why am I so nervous?
Because we started the off-season by off-loading two pillars of our team: Montero and Parke.
Problematic they may have been for different reasons, but they were one of the best forwards and defenders in the league.
Parke’s performance landed him an appearance on the USNMT (granted, the B-squad, and his age will probably keep it at that, but an appearance nonetheless).
Montero –we should hope for reasons of  good karma- will take the next step on what could be a great career: winning the Copa Libertadores with Millonarios, securing his slot on the Colombian national team which loses to the USA in the World Cup Final.
In the hierarchy of MLS soccer, Montero and Parke are both above the norm; they should be replaced with equal or better players.
The Sounders have some excellent MLS-caliber players, but that’s the problem: they are still “MLS-caliber” players.
Over the years, we’ve always managed to augment the roster with higher caliber players.
At a minimum, they had national team experience (Marshall, Gonzalez, Johansson), or played in a league considered top flight (Rosales, Tiffert). In the best cases, they brought World Cup experience (Flaco, Nkufo, Johnson).  Sometimes they came to us with copious amounts of all three (Keller, Ljungberg). Alternatively there were young talents with at least the potential of achieving those goals (Montero, Zakuani, Alonso).
The Sounders have some very good MLS players: Ianni, Estrada, Burch, Rose, Caskey, etc. But it’s these “better than MLS” players that got us into the CONCACAF Champions League and into the MLS playoffs*.
Getting rid of top-quality players (Montero, Parke) and replacing them with “good”, or even ‘very good’ MLS players (Scott, Estrada) is not a recipe for victory, especially against non-MLS teams, like Tigres.
In the middle of writing this, Sounders announced the signing of Djimi Traore. That’s good, but in order to have a successful run at the CONCACAF Champions League, they should have done this by mid-January to familiarize the new players with the team.
And we still need a high-caliber forward. Instead, we get Neagle. I like Neagle. He’s a home-town hero. He’s shown incredible growth since first joining the team, growth augmented by stints in Finland and Canada.
In fact, he’s arguably the best MLS player to have ever played in both Finland AND Canada. But that’s not what we need.
We need a top-class striker.
We have excellent midfielders, but none of them top-class up at top. I opined last month that such a player is Freddy Adu: admittedly not realistic nor perfect, but meets the requirements. I don’t think Sigi got the memo.
You can kiss any dreams of CCL success goodbye.
You can expect the first few months of league play to be rocky, perhaps even with more ties and losses than wins.
Some of the more short-sighted fans will be utterly distraught by June. Hold your breath (again!) that we catch a big fish in the summer transfer window.
But will that be too little too late?
We’ll easily make playoffs, but will miss the Supporter’s Shield by several points.
We’ll lose in the playoffs, probably to LA (the Empire striking back, yet again).
And we’ll finish the season with a big dust storm of fan outrage wondering why we didn’t win it all, hoping for a return of a world-class striker, a Jedi if you will.
Rinse and repeat in 2014.
*If you think the Sounders were going to/should have won either the Supporter’s Shield or the MLS Cup in their first four years, you’re delusional.

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