TUKWILA – At first glance, the thought seems odd: Sounders FC, coming off its worst offensive season plus the departure of its top scorer, could feature its most balanced attack in 2014.
Sure, the potential leading men are there. Designated player Obafemi Martins had an impressive scoring rate in MLS last season — when healthy, at least — and new forward partner Kenny Cooper is just one year removed from a stellar 18-goal campaign in New York.
And don’t forget U.S. national team star Clint Dempsey, of course.
Unlike previous seasons, though, the bulk of the scoring responsibility won’t fall on a select two or three, as has often been the case with guys like Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero. Proven scoring threats are now littered throughout the roster, including new acquisition Marco Pappa and last year’s breakout star, Lamar Neagle.
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No less than six players in preseason camp have tallied seven or more goals in a year since 2011.
“It’s nice that you can look at a bunch of people and know they have goals in them,” said Cooper. “There is a lot of great quality going forward on this team.”
Seattle’s attacking depth is perhaps most reminiscent of the 2011 season, when the Sounders had 11 multi-goal scorers, by far the most in franchise history, and 56 league goals to lead MLS by an overwhelming margin (next-most was 50).
Just how coach Sigi Schmid would have it.
“If you’re a team that can score goals from multiple sources — if your wide players have shown that they can score goals, if your forwards are scoring goals, if you can get goals from midfield, get goals off set pieces — then you’re going to score enough goals to win games and win important games,” he said.
Over the years, Schmid has preferred balance, which is actually a philosophy counter to the success of one of his best teams — the 2002 Los Angeles Galaxy. That year, forward Carlos Ruiz scored 24 goals in 26 games, fifth-most in league history, to lead L.A. to the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS Cup championship.
But a singular threat is easier to defend.
“And when everybody knows they have a chance to score a goal, everybody stays more involved and invested in the game,” Schmid added.
The Sounders, for the first time, had three players score at least eight goals in 2013 — Johnson (9), Martins (8) and Neagle (8) — but the balance dropped off significantly after that. The team only had five multi-goal scorers overall, tied for a franchise worst.
The limited production was especially troublesome amid a season of constant lineup changes, as Johnson and Brad Evans were in and out with the U.S. national team and Martins struggled to stay healthy (both call-ups and injuries were issues for Dempsey upon his summer signing).
Some of the same obstacles exist in 2014, particularly as Dempsey and Evans stand to miss time in preparation for this summer’s World Cup in Brazil. This time, though, reassurance is offered in quality depth.
Dempsey loan unaffected by Fulham change
Dempsey has two weeks remaining on his loan with Fulham of the English Premier League, which announced a coaching change Friday as Felix Magath replaced Rene Meulensteen.
So will the coaching change affect the deal and perhaps lead to an early return?
“No, it doesn’t affect it at all,” Schmid said Saturday. “You don’t know how Felix Magath is going to approach it. … It’s what was agreed to, so you sort of let it sit unless there is something that comes to the forefront that should change it.”
Dempsey has been inactive in Fulham’s last two games. The Cottagers are in last place and have just one game remaining during the loan, Feb. 22 at West Bromwich Albion — a crucial matchup in the relegation battle.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @joshuamayers