If you went into MLS hibernation the moment FC Dallas' decisive penalty kick knocked Seattle out of the playoffs, catch up with five important dates that summarize what you've missed.
Blink and you might have missed it: The Major League Soccer offseason officially came to a close on Friday morning, when the Seattle Sounders and 11 other teams reported for preseason training camp.
If you went into MLS hibernation the moment FC Dallas’ decisive penalty kick knocked Seattle out of the playoffs, catch up with five important dates that summarize what you’ve missed.
– Dec. 2, 2015: Sounders decline the contract options of nine players.
There were audible gasps when Seattle released its annual list of the players whose contract options were being picked up for 2016 — as well as those whose weren’t. A number of longtime club standbys fell into the latter category.
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Zach Scott ultimately re-signed for the club a month later, but Leo Gonzalez headed home to Costa Rica after a seven-year spell in Seattle. Chad Barrett became a member of the first-ever MLS free agency class, and both the Andreas Correa and Thomas eras ended before they even really began. Gonzalo Pineda, Micheal Azira and Troy Perkins also got waived, and Marco Pappa was picked back up only to get traded to Colorado.
– Dec. 6, 2015: Portland Timbers win MLS Cup.
Portland pounced on a pair of early Columbus miscues and held on for a 2-1 victory at Crew Stadium to become the first Cascadian club to lift MLS Cup. Tough as the result was to stomach on the Washington side of the state line, the league’s best rivalry dialed up a few more notches — as did the pressure on the Sounders to immediately respond.
Perhaps even more than the disappointment of a playoff exit at the conference semifinal stage, the sight of their bitter rivals reaching the summit first lent the Sounders’ offseason a sense of underlying sense of urgency and purpose.
An early indication of what general manager Garth Lagerwey meant when he said the Sounders needed to get younger around the margins, sentimentality be damned. The pride of the 253 was traded east for allocation money, having been pushed down the depth chart by the signing of Andreas Ivanschitz. An offseason theme was established: Don’t expect much of the starting XI to turn over, but nobody was safe from No. 12 on down. With very little salary cap wiggle room, Seattle had to get creative even to limbo its way beneath the threshold.
The Sounders filled the most glaring hole in their lineup by trading away their only first-round draft pick. Trinidad and Tobago outside back Joevin Jones isn’t exactly the sexiest signing — defenders rarely are — but he’s only 24, and he can play. Most importantly, left back is his natural position, which makes him unique on Seattle’s roster. So pencil in Jones as the starting left back come opening night against Sporting Kansas City. Breakout rookie Oniel Fisher shifts back to his more comfortable role on the right to push Tyrone Mears for minutes.
With training camp fast approaching, Seattle’s offseason was grading somewhere in the C-minus range. The signing of longtime target and U.S. national team member Jordan Morris immediately bumped that up a few letter grades, made all the notable by the European interest Morris rebuffed in order to stay home.
Where Morris fits into the currently scheme of things remains to be seen. Seattle already has three highly-paid forwards on its roster in Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Nelson Valdez. Sounders coach Sigi Schmid hinted at a three-striker formation, but even that will require some creative accounting to get its most talented pieces onto the field.
That, though, is a question for training camp. The team’s first 2016 practice session is on Saturday morning at Starfire Sports Complex, and the Sounders train in Tukwila through next Wednesday before departing for Tucson and the Desert Friendlies.