I’m sure you all have heard the old joke:
An American, an Argentinean, an Australian, an Austrian, a Brit, a Canadian, a Columbian, a Costa Rican, a Cuban, a Congolese, a Dane, a Gambian, a German, a Ghanaian, a Honduran, a Jamaican, a Mexican, a Swede, a Vincentian, a Trinidadian, and an Uruguayan (shown above with fancy tea) walk into a bar.
Bartender says, “What’ll it be?” They reply, “Shots all around!” I present to you your 2012 Seattle Sounders.
“Our mentality right now is to try to win everything we are playing. We don’t want to lose anything. We want to be sure that everyone wants the same thing. You have to have that thought if you want to represent the Seattle Sounders.”
When asked what his personal goals were for this season, that’s how Mauro Rosales responded.
Our 100% better midfielder won the MLS Newcomer of the Year award in 2011, and received serious MVP consideration before his MCL tear last September (before the injury he had tallied 4 goals and 8 assists in 9 games…so he was clearly pretty sick before the injury). He also helped the Sounders lead the league in scoring with 13 assists and 5 goals.
Head Coach Sigi Schmid talked about Rosales’ communication skills that went beyond the pitch. “He’s a very good guy in the locker room. He’s also very good in terms of his communication with the players and helping them understand what he’s looking for in the game and he doesn’t come across as a know-it-all. It’s more an old pro helping younger players. His personality and his ability to lead and help in that manner is very good.”
And then there’s there the back-to-back team MVP, Osvaldo Alonso. In 2012 he garnered league MVP consideration when he led the league by winning possession with 133 tackles, 38 more than the next highest in the league. “What distinguishes him in this league is his ability to recover the ball,” said Sigi. “A lot of guys can pick up mistakes that the opponent makes. He forces errors out of the opponents and he’s almost cagey about it. You think he’s not marking, then the ball gets played and he’s right there.”
So, okay, it’s pretty clear now that if the Sounders were Star Wars characters Rosales would be Obi Wan, Montero would be Luke Skywalker, Alonso would be Han Solo, Alvaro Fernandez would be C-3PO, and Sigi Schmid would be George Lucas. And every storm trooper would be David Beckham. (Jesus. The thought.)
But I digress. We should really turn our attention to some of the new members of our Galactic Ball Kicking Squad. Let’s start with the quick and shifty: Cordell Cato is a 17-year-old midfielder from Trinidad who came in 2nd on the team in speed trials (Mike Fucito came in 4th).
Side note: I came in 9th, as it happen, but they only placed up to 8 and I was holding a cheeseburger and they said I wasn’t on the team and barely a reporter. I didn’t wanna finish the cheeseburger after that ‘cause it was wet with my tears… (GO SOUNDERS!)
“We kept our eye on him in the off-season and he was definitely someone we wanted to bring in and join us through preseason,” Sigi said about Cato. “We felt he had a good shot at playing.” Better shot than I did I guess.
Sigi is also excited about Danish midfielder Christian Sivebæk (5th in the speed trials), who plays an unapologetically attacking style. Christian’s father John Sivebæk famously scored the first goal in Alex Ferguson’s tenure as manager at Manchester United. And as a child Christian would often dance around his father chanting “Manchester United” in a mocking tone. And then he’d be grounded for 180 days. Just kidding. They loved each other.
Sigi on Christian: “He’s a big boy, huh? He’s a big boy and he’s fast, so he presents a few different options for us. He hits the ball very well, he’s pretty aggressive going after people…I think he’s got great potential.”
Y’know who else was a big boy in 2011? Sammy Ochoa. Sammy provided a nice spark for the team late in the season last year, and for 2 months right after the season ended he worked like a dog on a weekly basis at the Starfire training center.
“Sammy is fitter than he was last year when he came to us,” said Sigi, “he’s dropped some weight, which was important for him. I still think he’s a good player that can hold the ball up. He’s a good target that way, he’s mobile, he’s pretty good in front of the goal. I’m pleased he’s with us. He’s done ok, but he’s still going to get better.”
Jason Banton will also get better. He was picked up as a 19-year-old Supplemental Draft pick. Banton, an Arsenal youth prospect from North London, has a similar style of play and background to Steve Zakuani. “I’ve seen a few videos of Steve and I play quite similar,” Banton said after his first training session with the Sounders FC. It won’t be easy for Banton to find playing time as a winger with Zakuani, the nearly-lionized Morales, Alvaro Fernandez, Lamar Neagle, and Siveæk in front of him on the depth chart (not to mention veterans Roger Levesque and David Estrada. Even though I just did).
One man who won’t have trouble finding playing time is Michael Gspurning. He’s been playing gspectacularly in training camp (sorry I had to get one out). As the first to hop into the wake of a Seattle sports legend, the 6’5 Gspurning splashes into the Seattle limelight as a 30-year-old Austrian who’s been playing in Greece since ’07. In Greece he earned records such as 8 straight road game shutouts in their Super League (apparently Greece has a “super league.” I guess they also refer to their gyros as “super gyros.” I’m kidding, I love Greece. It’s super.) In 2004 Gspurning was named Best Goalkeeper in Austria’s 2nd highest division. And when Michael was 8 he kicked a ball right at the television which was broadcasting a 20-year-old Kasey Keller playing in the German league. He kicked the ball right at Kasey Keller’s face on the screen. His parents were shocked. They told him, “Gstop that right now!” (I’m sorry. None of that happened about the TV. I have no idea where Kasey Keller was when he was 20.)
The bottom line is that Sigi likes this guy. “First off, you don’t replace Kasey Keller. What you’re looking for is a new goalkeeper,” said Sigi. “We like Michael’s background and pedigree. We like his size. He’s got good feet so we can play through him and he’s very good on crosses, takes good angles and has good hands.” Good hands? His hands are gorgeous.
Coach Schmid is not the only person excited about the assemblage of chess pieces before him. Majority owner Joe Roth believes we have the best midfield in the league. “We have the best midfield in the league,” he said, “and there will be some real competition for those spots. I think we’ve been more aggressive this year than the last three years. I was really happy with the moves we made.” Roth went on hinting towards building a legacy, where exceptional players become rooted here and stay in Seattle throughout their careers:
“I’d like to be able to keep a core group of players. Growing up in New York, players played an entire generation for the Yankees or Dodgers or the football Giants. I think that’s a missing component in today’s sports.”
On that note you’re gonna need a lot more hollow calabash gourds filled with tea and armed with filtering straws for our Uruguayan Sensation Alvaro Fernandez (seen above with tea that was not originally in the photo…but he would have it in his hand if he had the chance). Alvaro, who had 11 goals and 5 assists last season, is now vying to get on the Uruguayan National Team by improving his play in 2012. But back to that gourd: “A lot of people give me looks and others stop me and ask me what it does,” Fernandez laughed. “It’s just tea.”
Yeah, right. It’s what all the soccer Jedis are drinking right now, I’m sure. With the Sounders shattering MLS attendance records year-by-year, and Professional Franchise of the Year and MLS Executive of the Year (Gary Wright) awards showering upon this young sports franchise, there is no better place to consider the headquarters of the Rebel Alliance of MLS than the home of the Seattle Sounders. And I promise you under the very stars that shine over me tonight, that I will not make one reference to Star Wars in my next article. It is out of my system. It is now somewhere in the Dagoba system. Go Sounders!
By: Matt Caliri