Retooled Sounders hope '14 a title season

Retooled Sounders hope '14 a title season
Seattle Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (6) takes part in a ball-handling drill as other players wait for their turns during MLS soccer training, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Tukwila, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) - When the collapse began last fall, the Seattle Sounders went from MLS favorites to a crumbling club that obviously needed change.

It's the byproduct of having an unrivaled fan base and expectations that anything less than a league title is unacceptable for management.

"To be honest it was time. Every couple of years a team is going to have to go through changes to grow and you get a certain amount of time with a certain group of players, and if you don't win you change it," Seattle midfielder Brad Evans said. "Most of the time it's your star players you try and change and bring them in with other well-known players around the league and that's just the nature of the game and that's the business part of it. It kind of is what it is and we did lose some big names and some very good players but I think we've brought in some great players to fill in the shoes. And I think the group is a little bit stronger."

Seattle will go into the 2014 season with the same belief that anything less than an MLS title is not success. But they'll do it with a completely overhauled roster, the result of the slide at the end of 2013.

The question of whether changes were needed stretched from the bottom of the roster all the way up to coach Sigi Schmid. Eventually, general manager Adrian Hanauer and majority owner Joe Roth decided keeping Schmid and remodeling the team was the path Seattle would travel.

It wasn't a complete overhaul. Evans is still around. So is Lamar Neagle, Obafemi Martins and rising homegrown star DeAndre Yedlin. Midfielder Osvaldo Alsonso was rewarded with a designated player contract and Seattle is about to get its first full season with Clint Dempsey on the roster.

But the names that are gone are notable. U.S. national team striker Eddie Johnson is now with D.C. United. Defensive center backs Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni are gone. Midfielder Mauro Rosales is now with Chivas USA. Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning is back in Europe.

It's a completely new look for Seattle and only success on the field will determine whether the right choices were made.

"It's not really up to me what changes we make on the roster but the new guys have been great and very positive," Yedlin said. "They are good players and I'm excited to see what they can bring to the team."

The additions made by Seattle aren't on the same level as the move last summer to bring Dempsey back from Europe. But they could end up being more important.

Up front, Seattle brought in veteran striker Kenny Cooper, along with Chad Barrett and Tristan Bowen. In the midfield, Seattle acquired Marco Pappa through allocation when he decided to return to MLS from Europe. Chad Marshall, who played for Schmid in Columbus, was acquired in a trade to anchor the middle of Seattle's defense. And former Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei was brought in to compete with 41-year-old Marcus Hahnemann for the starting job.

"It is pretty obvious the mentality they are going for," Neagle said. "They want to be more aggressive and a lot more pressure and I think the guys they've brought in have that same mentality, so it's nice. It's easy to get on the same page when you have similar guys on the field."

While all the roster changes mean some sort of acclimation period, how Dempsey fits during his second season will be watched closely early in the year. His first few months with Seattle late last season were a disappointment as the American star recorded just one goal and one assist in his nine games. Getting fully entrenched as Seattle's leader will be difficult this season as well with Dempsey likely getting called away for U.S. national team duties even before training camp for the World Cup in Brazil starts in May.

Dempsey may not even be available for Saturday's opener after being called into national team duty for an exhibition match against Ukraine.

"We're still getting to know each other. We're still getting to know what the tendencies are of each player, but I like the spirit of the team, I like their attitude," Schmid said.