Welcome to 2013 everybody! Preseason will be kicking off soon enough, but first I wanted to count down my top 30 stories of the past year.
It’s pretty unscientific, and I surely missed something, but here we go…
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30. New turf! It probably came a season too late, but CenturyLink Field got a new FieldTurf surface before the 2012 campaign. It looked great at the start, but the wear of an MLS season, an NFL season and a Pac-12 football season have started to take a toll. I wonder how it will play in 2013 and if next year might be its last before another replacement.
29. “Are you going to be on The Amazing Race?” That was a question I had to ask Andrew Weber before I really got to know him, but indeed the goalkeeper had filmed a season of the reality show in the offseason with his twin brother, Elliot. The Webers didn’t last long on the show, similar to Andrew’s stay in Seattle (his option for next year was declined).
28. Super Cyan debuts. Like it or not, the flashy third kit got off to a pretty good start. The alternate uniforms were worn for the first time against Mexico’s Santos Laguna in a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal leg at home. Seattle won that first game, 2-1, and wore the jerseys throughout the year in non-MLS games.
27. Sounders FC U-23 arrives. Early in the year it was announced that the Tacoma Tide PDL team would be rebranded and become a part of Sounders FC’s youth development program. Many top academy products featured on the team over the summer (Nate Jaqua, too) en route to a division title and a 2013 U.S. Open Cup berth.
26. Big-name trialists. Remember when Eidur Gudjohnsen was in town and took part in a reserve game? It was worldwide soccer news, even if nothing came of it in the end. Heck, we didn’t even get to talk to him. Former Ajax man George Ogararu was another accomplished trialist that spent some time in Seattle.
25. Kasey Keller wins Sports Star of the Year. The Seattle Sports Star of the Year banquet is a glitzy, annual event, and the former Sounders FC goalkeeper and captain took top honors in January. This year, Eddie Johnson and Alex Morgan are up for the award.
24. Sounders partake in other honors. Just this Sunday, coach Sigi Schmid raised the 12th Man Flag at the Seahawks’ regular-season finale. Earlier in the year, forward Fredy Montero was invited to throw out the first pitch at a Mariners gave, where he gave tribute to Felix Hernandez’ perfect game, much like he did in a goal celebration.
23. Jeff Parke traded. It has been a quiet offseason for additions but not departures. Most notably, the team shipped off its reigning two-time Defender of the Year to his hometown club, Philadelphia, for a draft pick and allocation money. It remains to be seen how the salary cap-constrained Sounders will be able to add to the defense and elsewhere for 2013.
22. O’Brian White’s uncertain situation. For a fleeting moment in 2011, it looked like White might have Eddie Johnson-like production as the team’s target forward. But blood clot issues have sidelined him for almost two years. White’s contract was bought out before the 2012 opener, but he remains under Sounders control as he continues comeback efforts.
21. Franchise-worst winless streak. May 12 vs. Real Salt Lake (1-0 loss). May 19 at Vancouver (2-2 tie). May 23 vs. Columbus (2-0 loss). May 26 at Chivas USA (1-1 tie). June 16 at Montreal (4-1 loss). June 20 vs. Sporting KC (1-1 tie). June 24 at Portland (2-1 loss). June 30 at New England (2-2 tie). July 4 at Real Salt Lake (0-0 tie). Nine game winless. Sure, Michael Gspurning was out with the hip injury, but ouch.
20. Ross Fletcher hired, joined in the booth by Kasey Keller. With Arlo White bolting for NBC Sports, the Sounders brought in another BBC product in Ross Fletcher to assume play-by-play duties. This time there would be two men in the broadcast booth, however, as the retired Keller joined in as a color commentator. Their local broadcasts were picked up nationally a couple times.
19. Jeff Parke/Brad Evans called up. Before Eddie Johnson’s return to the U.S. men’s national team — we’ll get to that later — a couple Sounders were late invitees to January camp. For Evans, it was his first call-up under Jurgen Klinsmann and he got to play in his favored midfield position (a 2013 Gold Cup possibility?). Parke earned his very first cap for the 10-man U.S. in a 1-0 road win in Panama.
18. Marcus Hahnemann comes home. The Seattle native pretty much figured a storybook return to his hometown club would be impossible. The league’s complicated allocation process would make it so. But just before the roster freeze, the Sounders struck a deal with Hahnemann and Toronto FC (which held the No. 1 spot in the allocation order) to bring the veteran goalkeeper home.
17. Marc Burch caught using gay slur. Seattle was without left back Marc Burch for the Western Conference finals against Los Angeles after he was spotted directing a gay slur toward a Real Salt Lake player in the conference semifinals. The veteran was issued a three-game suspension, the precedent of which was set when Houston’s Colin Clark used a gay slur in Seattle in March. Burch will serve the final game of his suspension in the 2013 opener.
16. Transfer window drama. It was a very weird time at the end of the summer transfer window when reports from Germany had the Sounders signing Christian Tiffert as a designated player, all while Seattle had three DPs on the roster. Alvaro Fernandez was eventually traded to Chicago to open up space. The team also brought in talented Honduran midfielder Mario Martinez.
15. Retroactive punishment hits hard. The MLS Disciplinary Committee took a leading role in 2012 and the Sounders were one of the most affected teams. Fernandez and Leo Gonzalez were each fined for embellishment. Zach Scott, Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalez were among those suspended for bad tackles, as well.
14. Rookie revelations. It was a tough year for SuperDraft picks, as Andrew Duran and Babayele Sodade each suffered season-ending knee injuries, but Andy Rose and Alex Caskey were among the big surprises of the year. The steady Rose already looks the part of a league veteran and the versatile Caskey finished tied for third on the team in assists.
13. Cascadia Cup lost. All Vancouver had to do was earned a home tie against Portland in the final game of the Pacific Northwest competition for the Sounders to retain the cup. The Whitecaps didn’t. The Timbers won and claimed the fan-sponsored trophy for the first time with all three teams in competition. Seattle is set to have four of six games at home in the competition next year.
12. More amazing attendance. Once again, Sounders fans set the standard for MLS support. Average attendance approached 45,000 per game led by the 66,452 for a home clash versus the rival Timbers. Seattle had the four largest crowds of the year in games involving an MLS team.
11. World Cup qualifier coming to Seattle? One of the more recent developments has been the possibility of CenturyLink Field as a host venue for a World Cup qualifier. Sounders management said the team is in active conversations to bring a big game to Seattle, and while Grant Wahl reported that U.S. Soccer is more open to playing such games on temporary grass. Though there are some potential schedule conflicts in the way.
10. CCL ups and downs. The year got off to a great start in a 2011-12 CCL quarterfinal against Mexico’s Santos Laguna, but a 2-1 home win in the first leg was quickly erased by a 6-1 road loss in the second. Seattle will have another chance to advance in a March quarterfinal, this time against Mexico’s Tigres UANL, after cruising to a 4-0 record in the 2012-13 group stage.
9. Osvaldo Alonso gets his due, citizenship. The impact of Osvaldo Alonso to Sounders FC’s success has been known locally since Year 1, but the league knows all about him now. The three-time team MVP earned MLS All-Star status for the second year in a row and was named to the MLS Best XI. It was a big year personally, as well, as he received American citizenship. No surprise West Ham wanted to take a look.
8. Roger Levesque retires. The news hit hard when it was revealed the Chelsea friendly would be Roger Levesque’s last with the club. The fan favorite and Timbers nemesis was all effort, all heart, willing to play anywhere, a locker room leader, goal celebration master, yellow lab with an attitude, and much more.
7. Michael Gspurning takes over. Replacing Keller would be a tall task, so the Sounders found a 6-foot-5 replacement. Turns out the big Austrian might’ve been the best goalkeeper in MLS last season. Had he not missed 12 games with a hip injury, he might’ve earned the award officially. Not only that, the dude is funny. One of the great moves by the front office.
6. Epic comeback vs. Galaxy falls short. Reporters shared knowing glances in the press box during the second leg of the Western Conference finals: “This is going to happen, isn’t it?” Eddie Johnson scored two early goals (just one counted, however, due to an erroneous offside call) and Zach Scott pulled the series to within one goal, all after a horrific 3-0 loss in the first leg. But another unlucky decision from the referees helped L.A. escape CenturyLink Field with an MLS Cup berth.
5. Adrian Hanauer retained as GM after vote. Sounders FC’s first vote to retain or remove general manager Adrian Hanauer received international attention. The brainchild of minority owner Drew Carey proved no contest in the end, though, as Hanauer received support from more than 96 percent of the vote.
4. U.S. Open Cup controversy. I should say “controversies” actually, because there were more than one. There was the insinuation from coach Sigi Schmid that the coin toss to determine home-field advantage might not have been so honest and that the federation was rooting for Seattle to lose. There was another curious coin flip that gave Kansas City hosting rights to the final. Then there were let’s say a few debatable calls by referee Ricardo Salazar in the final.
3. Eddie Johnson’s career revival. What an eventful year for Eddie Johnson. He arrives to Seattle in a trade that much of the fan base didn’t agree with. He had some punchups with teammates and opponents, then an incident with some fans in Chicago. He was also a revelation on the field with a franchise best 14 goals, a late winner in the MLS All-Star Game versus Chelsea, and then a heroic return to the U.S. men’s national team with a couple huge goals in a World Cup qualifier at Antigua & Barbuda.
2. Playoff triumph on a wonder goal. Sounders FC and Real Salt Lake had played 469 scoreless minutes against each other, including 170 straight in the playoffs. RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando had been unbeatable. But with one out-of-this-world strike by Mario Martinez, making his first MLS start in place of the injured Mauro Rosales, the Sounders had finally advanced out of the first round of the playoffs.
1. Steve Zakuani’s return. What a comeback from a devastating injury capped by a tremendous performance in the final game of the season against the Galaxy (specifically stud right-back Sean Franklin). There was the slow and steady progress from training games to reserve games to MLS games. There was the jersey exchange with Colorado’s Brian Mullan after an emotional 90 minutes. There was burning Zach Loyd for an assist and a big equalizer against league-leading San Jose. It was amazing and inspirational to watch him return to the game he loves.
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Any thoughts? What did I miss?