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Here’s an anecdote about Eddie Johnson … I went to Seattle’s Cinerama theater to see the premiere of the Sounders documentary “American Football” on Oct. 23 of last season. (Note: Great flick that every Sounders fan who enjoys weeping at the departure of Fredy Montero and Michael Gspurning should watch).
There’s a short scene in the movie in which Eddie Johnson talks about soccer, his kids, what drives him. Nice moment.
I tweeted about how, in the aftermath of the previous month’s “pay me” celebration, fans should perhaps look at this scene to understand that EJ is, in fact, a complicated human being. Almost immediately, I got a Twitter notification that I was now being followed by Eddie Johnson.
Two points to this story: 1) If you say something nice about Eddie Johnson on Twitter, he might follow you and 2) We Sounders fans spent WAY too much time last season thinking and talking about Eddie Johnson.
That’s all over now. The Sounders’ front office moved on. So did EJ. So did we.
But that was just one of many departures for the team this offseason. It’s a bit of a theme. So many players were shipped out.
EJ (F): Good luck, buddy. Hope you find what you’re looking for (piles of money).
Michael Gspurning (GK): Salary cap casualty who picked the wrong time to suffer through a stretch of bad games.
Mauro Rosales (M): The captain will always be loved ‘round these parts, but age caught up to him.
Steve Zakuani (M): To Portand! Damn it! Seriously!
Marc Burch (M): To the Rapids in the re-entry draft.
Adam Moffat (M): That didn’t last long.
Jhon-Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni (D): To Chicago in the Jalil Anibaba trade, in a move that was more about clearing cap space than anything else.
Shalrie Joseph (M): Still technically on the roster as of today, but training with the Revs and not in the Sounders’ plans.
And those are just the notables.
For the Sounders, this offseason was a bit of an overhaul, which would be surprising if all you knew about their season was that they made the playoffs once again and were, for a good stretch of time, in the race for the Supporters Shield.
Expectations, on all sides, are pretty high up here in the 206. After flaming out in a humiliating loss to Portland, a debacle in which SHALRIE FREAKING JOSEPH started at forward, coach Sigi Schmid barely held onto his job. Changes were called for. And they came.
The New Faces:
Marco Pappa (M): Exactly what the Sounders needed from their No. 2 allocation spot.
Stefan Frei (GK): Likely the winner of a very close competition for the starting job with Marcus Hahnemann.
Tristan Bowen (F): Acquired from Chivas in the Mauro Rosales trade.
Chad Marshall (D): The Sounders got the (very) tall, stabilizing force on the back line they sorely needed.
Kenny Cooper (F): Is he an EJ replacement? No. Nor does he need to be.
Chad Barrett (F): He’ll get time as a sub.
Jalil Anibaba (D): Moving back to his natural CB position and fighting for a starting spot with Djimi Traore.
Aaron Kovar (M) and Sean Okoli (F): Two new Homegrown signings who should make a real impact at some point this season.
And a small army of trialists – including the very promising Kevin Parsemain, Gonzalo Pineda and Fabio Pereira.
That’s a crap-ton (to use a technical soccer term) of turnover. How’s it actually going to shake out?
The preseason gave us a fairly good idea, even without Clint Dempsey, who suffered through a disaster of a loan to Fulham, something virtually every Sounders fan wishes never happened.
Here’s a look at how a theoretically ideal XI will play in 2014:
The Back Line:
Whether Sigi chooses to start Frei or Hahnemann is almost too close to call. It’s a good problem to have, as both keepers have played well in alternating starting roles throughout the preseason.
Regardless of who’s manning the net, the defense in front of him should be much calmer this year. Marshall is a beast. He’s experienced and stable. Anibaba looks like a good partner for him, and should eliminate the problem the team faced last season, with Traore fading down the stretch. DeAndre Yedlin is still awesome and getting awesomer.
Left back, though, is interesting. The starter should be Leo Gonzalez. He had a great year, one of the best of his career, but he’s coming off of groin surgery … and he’s got second-year RB Dylan Remick breathing down his neck. It would not be surprising to see Remick overtake Leo at some point. Again, a nice problem to have.
A few weeks back, I was panicking about the left mid position. Mostly because the only options seemed to be young Aaron Kovar or maybe Lamar Neagle.
But that was before Marco Pappa entered the fold via the allocation order. Aside from providing headline writers with easy puns, Pappa fit into the club almost immediately, and has looked flat-out fantastic – creative, aggressive, someone to take corners and free kicks. Not a bad player to have fall into your lap, eh? Thank Chivas for that – acquiring that allocation spot in the Rosales deal might be a season-changer.
Ozzie Alonso will do exactly what he’s always done: He will take the ball. All game long. That is what earned him a DP contract.
Brad Evans will do what he does over on the right side of the midfield, or wherever else Sigi needs him to play. He’s a national team player for a reason.
But the big question is …
What About Clint?
Well, there are two schools of thought on this, one reactionary and one a little more realistic.
School No. 1: Coming to MLS was the worst mistake Dempsey has ever made! He’s terrible now! Look how he played at Fulham! Noooooooo!
School No. 2: It’s OK to acknowledge that Clint had a bit of a hard time adjusting to MLS last season, but all summer transfers seem to. And yes, his stint at Fulham has been ugly, but that is in large part due to the fact that Fulham is a flaming tire fire.
It’s impossible to judge Dempsey’s current quality at the moment. But he’s still Clint Dempsey. He’s still one of the very best players in MLS.
He’ll play center mid with Obafemi Martins and (probably) Kenny Cooper up ahead of him and he will do Dempsey things and maybe people will walk back from the ledge a bit.
The (Many) Forwards:
The Sounders have a lot of forwards. The starters are pretty clear, though: It’s Oba and Kenny Cooper.
Cooper’s been fine, but Oba is more fun to talk about. He actually got an offseason. And a preseason. It turns out that playing nonstop soccer for a year is exhausting, and that likely contributing to his erratic production during last year’s stretch run.
But now? It’s hard to overstate how different the guy looks. Faster. Sharper. Just … better. I cannot wait to see him score and score and score.
We’re nearly 1200 words into this piece, which is a long way of saying: This team is going to be good. I think they’re going to be underestimated. And that’s fine by me. Even with some important absences due to the World Cup, Sigi will throw a stacked lineup out there. And there’s depth enough to handle (knock on wood) injuries.
That being said, some predictions are in order:
Golden Boot: Obafemi Martins will be in the running. On a recent Vegas trip, I tried and failed to find a casino willing to take MLS futures bets. I was ready to throw down for Oba.
The Young Ones: Dylan Remick will take over at left back. Sean Okoli won’t have the impact of DeAndre Yedlin last year, but he’ll contribute. So will Aaron Kovar.
The Trialist: Kevin Parsemain will make the club and score an absurd goal of the week.
Didier Drogba: Will be a Sounder! No, wait. I will not predict that. I still believe he will come to MLS, and it could be to the Sounders, and that would be incredible. I will let you know if I hear anything more on his destination.
A more reliable prediction …
Revenge: Will be had. The Sounders will advance farther in the playoffs than the Portland Timbers.
(images courtesy of goal.com and ussoccerplayers.com)