Major League Soccer sent a reminder of just how brief its offseason is when it announced this week that its 16th season will begin March 15 at Qwest Field.
That First Kick match between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Sounders FC will take place exactly 124 days after the 2010 season ended with Colorado’s 2-1 MLS Cup victory over Dallas.
And there hasn’t been much down time since then, particularly for the Sounders.
Their highest-profile moves this offseason involved extending the contracts of their two most recognizable players: goalkeeper Kasey Keller and leading scorer Fredy Montero.
The latter was upgraded to designated player status, and his new contract keeps him under Seattle’s control for an undisclosed number of years, although general manager Adrian Hanauer acknowledged at the signing announcement that Montero will not necessarily serve out the entire contract in MLS.
“Soccer is a sport where there is a lot of movement,” Hanauer said. “And it’s not just an American game: The movement is global; the game is global. Again, we communicate very well and very regularly with Fredy, and if at any time there is an opportunity that is the right opportunity for Fredy and the right opportunity for the Sounders and the league, we will sit down and talk about it like we have in the past. For now, we are very, very happy that Fredy is going to be here for some number of years.”
Keller’s contractual end date seems more certain, as Hanauer and he cast this 20th professional season as a final go-round for the 41-year-old former U.S. national team star and Thurston County native.
“The thought of being able to play against Portland, against Vancouver, for one more year is something I just felt I needed to be part of,” Keller said at the contract announcement. “The way I feel physically, the way I feel mentally, I see no reason why I can’t continue on for one more season and then be able to go out on my own terms.”
Keller’s MLS regular-season goals-against average climbed from 0.92 in 2009 to 1.15 last season. However, his shutout total improved to 11 from 10.
In most other personnel moves, the Sounders got younger. The club traded away 32-year-old midfielder Peter Vagenas and lost 36-year-old defender Tyrone Marshall in the re-entry draft.
Other notable losses were starting midfielders Sanna Nyassi and Nathan Sturgis, who were selected by Vancouver in the expansion draft.
However, the club also signed Swedish midfielder Erik Friberg (24), and traded for forward O’Brian White (25, from Vancouver) and defenders Danny Earls (21, from Colorado) and Julien Baudet (31, from Colorado).
Hanauer said additional improvement can come from the healthy return of players such as Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Brad Evans and Nate Jaqua, and a full training camp for designated players Blaise Nkufo and Alvaro Fernandez, who each joined the team at mid-season.
“We’re very excited about next year,” Hanauer said. “We feel like getting Hurtado back is bringing back one of the top three defenders in the league. Evans, we think, adds a ton of energy and athleticism, gets up and down the field, has good vision and when he’s fit and at his best is a very good central midfielder. And to get Alvaro for a full preseason is almost like getting another player back – and a World Cup-quality semifinalist. (Jaqua) is one of the underappreciated, undervalued players that we have. Bringing O’Brian White in as well, another strong guy who can compete and put pressure on Fredy and Nate and Blaise. So, yes, we’re very comfortable with that group.”
Off the pitch, the Sounders said they are considering expanding Qwest Field capacity again, perhaps by opening the Hawks Nest in the north end. The club also has confirmed that it will shift its secondary jerseys from blue to a dark charcoal color called Cascade shale.
Next, after a short holiday pause, MLS will quickly gear up for the new season with these items highlighting the timetable:
Jan. 8-11: Player scouting combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Jan. 13: SuperDraft.
Late January: Sounders report for preseason training.
Jan. 29: Sounders open tryouts at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila.
February: Sounders continue training locally and out of the region.
March 15: Sounders’ third MLS season kicks off at 6:30 p.m. against the L.A. Galaxy.