2009 turned out to be just about as good a year for an expansion MLS team as could be had. Seattle Sounders FC finished with a record of 12 wins, 7 losses, and 11 ties, good enough to finish the year in fourth place overall, third in the Western Conference. Seattle won the US Open Cup, advanced to the quarterfinals in the MLS Cup and set the league record in attendance with an average of 30,943 chanting maniacs per home match.
The accolades for the players rolled in all year. Individually, goalkeeper Kasey Keller, midfielder Freddy Ljungberg, defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, and forward Fredy Montero represented the Sounders in the MLS All-Star match. Keller was named Player of the US Cup Tournament. Sebastian Le Toux took Player of the semifinal round while Fredy Montero took Player of the Final Round.
Fredy Montero took the MLS by storm. Coming out blazing, he took the Goal of the Week for Weeks 1 and 2, Player of the Week for Week 1, and Player of the Month for March. Keller took Player of the Week for Week 2 and Save of the Week for Weeks 10 and 21.
Nate Jaqua got Goal of the Week honors three times in Weeks 11, 15, and 23, while Patrick Ianni (Week 17) and Steve Zakuani (Week 22) earned the recognition too. Defender Tyronne Marshall won Save of the Week in Week 29.
2009 turned out incredibly well, even historically well, and the buzz around the Puget Sound soccer community has been electric. The already rabid fan base has only gotten louder and larger. The Sounders have opened up more of the Qwest Field seating to accommodate the demand. So, how will the Sounders do? Let’s look at the changes.
The biggest loss was Sebastian Le Toux. He was picked by the expansion Philadelphia Union in the MLS Expansion Draft. Le Toux was an original Sounder, playing for Seattle in the NASL before the team moved into the MLS. He was also the first player signed by Seattle. Apart from being one of my favorite players, his non-stop work effort and set piece ability made him a real asset to the more freelance skills of Montero out front.
Seattle also waived midfield Michael Fucito and defenders Evan Brown and Lamar Neagle. None of those players played much for the Sounders in 2009.
In the 2010 MLS SuperDraft (who chooses these names?), the Sounders chose UCLS forward David Estrada (1st), Villanova midfielder/forward Mike Seamon (2nd), and San Diego State midfielder Jamel Wallace (3rd).
At the beginning of March, Seattle made a huge move by signing FC Twente and Swiss International striker Blaise Nkufo on a free transfer to an 18-month contract. Nkufo will not actually join the Sounders until July, after his international commitments are completed for the World Cup.
Seattle returns all of their regular starters and coaches from the inaugural season apart from Le Toux. While Sebastian will be missed, his absence will be more than offset when Nkufo arrives.
For everything that went right for the Sounders FC in 2009, there were holes. Nkufo, who is the top scorer for FC Twente, fills the biggest hole. From the beginning of the season Seattle struggled to find a player to play next to Montero on the front line. Nate Jaqua was the first player to be slotted in but he struggled badly and was finally moved to the right mid-field. Coach Sigi Schmid threw everyone but Kasey Keller next to Montero. Nothing worked and Montero struggled as opposing teams adjusted.
If Nkufo can fill that void up front, Seattle could become well nigh unstoppable. Yes, it’s a big "if" but this team became only the second expansion team to make the playoffs in MLS history. They stood toe to toe with the big hitters of the league and gave as good as they got. A year of seasoning, rabid fans, and a legitimate cold-blooded scorer bodes very well for the Sounders and very badly for the rest of the league.
The Sounders open the MLS season on March 25 at Qwest against the expansion Philadelphia Union. Look for the fans to welcome Le Toux back with a round of applause. That will be the last good vibe the visitors will get until they get on the plane home.