Sports with Art Thiel
5:00 am
Fri March 14, 2014

Many New Faces As Sounders Make Fresh Start

The Seattle Sounders FC host Toronto FC Saturday at CenturyLink Field. KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says the team has undergone an “extreme makeover,” with new players making up half of its 2014 roster.

Roster Overhaul After Disappointing Season

Art says the roster churn is a direct result of what happened at the end of last season.

“It was a mess last year," he said. "They were winless in their final 10 games. They lost to the hated Portland Timbers in the playoffs. So, the Sounders decided it was time for extreme makeover on the roster, as well they should have. This has been a big disappointment.”

Farewell To Some Fan Favorites

Sounders coach Sigi Schmid told Art that there was a clashing of some egos last year, particularly with the late-season acquisition of star player Clint Dempsey, who has yet to live up to the hype. Art says the desire for a more harmonious team and the Major League Soccer (MLS) salary cap forced the Sounders to make some tough decisions.

"That caused the departure of Steve Zakuani, Mauro Rosales and Michael Gspurning — three of the more popular players on the Sounders. And it mandated a change … to fit in players who worked better together, both on the field and in the clubhouse,” Art said.

How Long Can Fan Passion Last?

The fans are back this year, but is there a limit to their passion?

“That’s what the Sounders do not want to find out,” Art said. “There is tremendous pressure on this team to deliver, because they’ve led the MLS in attendance for five years in a row. They are double the number two team in terms of average crowd, and yet that hasn’t produced a title, no MLS championship. That’s been a source of great frustration for many fans, some of whom wanted Schmid gone.”

The Seahawks Effect

Then there’s the other pressure: the Seahawks’ success.

“The phenomenon of the Seahawks and their embrace of the 12th Man set such a high standard that if you don’t come anywhere close, you’re going to look real far behind. So that is a real urgency that is coloring this season,” Art said.

New Players To Watch

The Sounders have several new players. There are two locals:  Cam Weaver, a Kent native, and Federal Way’s Sean Okoli, who is “probably the fastest guy in the club," said Art.

The team has a new goalie, Stefan Frei, as well as midfielder Marco Pappa, a Guatemalan national with a lot of international experience.

Kenny Cooper is a longtime veteran who is “built like a linebacker” and “a good scorer,” said Art.

Then there’s Chad Barrett, who scored the goal against Kansas City last week.

“He’s a bright, funny, capable guy who’s probably going to be a fan favorite this year,” said Art.

MLS Like NFL? Hardly

“The salary cap in the NFL is $133 million this year. That’s the amount that the teams can pay players — in total. The MLS salary cap is a little over $ 3 million. So that gives you an idea of where these two enterprises are in the American sports landscape. But in Seattle, they’re 1 and 1A,” said Art.

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You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.