SEATTLE — Now comes the tricky part.
How do you take all of that first-year magic, all of the success of the Sounders FC debut season, and possibly keep that momentum going?
Kicking off its season on the heels of a dismal 2008 for Seattle sports, Sounders FC captured the region. Seattle sold out every game, hosted crowds of more than 65,000 for friendlies against world powers Barcelona and Chelsea, won the U.S. Open Cup, and qualified for the playoffs in its inaugural season.
“It’s never easy following something special like that,” said midfielder Steve Zakuani, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft. “There are going to be a lot of expectations from within the team and outside of the team. We’re going to be held at a higher standard, so things that we did last year that were considered good are going to be average this year. We’ve got to be better this year, that’s just the way it goes.”
The simple solution, and perhaps the only way to really top 2009, is to win a championship.
But short of winning the MLS Cup – and make no mistake, that is Seattle’s goal – how in the world is Sounders FC supposed to make the 2010 season as memorable as last year?
Obviously the first step is to keep winning. Seattle started last season 3-0, and while the team wasn’t able to maintain that pace, it was good enough to finish just two points shy of Columbus for the league’s best record and become the first expansion team to make the playoffs since 1998. Yes the team has already sold more than 31,500 season tickets, and yes, every home game is expected to be a sellout of more than 35,500, but wins will be the easiest way to keep those fans enthusiastic, and to keep them coming back in future years now that the first-year novelty is gone.
It’s also important, however, that the team plays an attractive brand of soccer while it tries to win games.
“Continue to play good soccer,” Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said. “Continue to entertain the fans. Obviously we won games (last season) but I also thought we played a good brand of soccer… So we want to continue that. We want to continue to be a team that moves the ball quickly, that combines, that gets forward, and that creates chances and wins games. That’s the best way to keep fans happy and we want to keep fans happy.”
And Seattle has the nucleus intact to keep winning and keep the fans happy. Designated player Freddie Ljungberg, a former English Premier League star, is one of the league’s best midfielders, and Fredy Montero, the league’s newcomer of the year, and Zakuani are dangerous weapons on offense. Seattle’s defense, anchored by all-star Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, allowed only 29 goals last year, tied for fewest with Houston. And even at 40, Kasey Keller is one of the league’s best keepers.
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