Thiel: Sounders' Slow Start Okay, But They Need To Speed Up Soon

Mar 17, 2017

Sounders fans will have another chance to celebrate the team’s MLS Cup title on Sunday. There will be a special ceremony before the start of the home opener against the New York Red Bulls at CenturyLink Field.

The team is off to a slow start this season and KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel says that needs to change soon.

Little Rest For The Champions

"Fans may remember when they were celebrating their first championship in mid-December and, seven weeks later, back at training camp," Thiel said.

"The season for championship teams get extended deep into what is normally the offseason when you don't win. Both general manager Garth Lagerwey and coach Brian Schmetzer were trying to tamp down the expectations for the start of the season because there is a fatigue factor.

"One of the major priorities in their offseason roster rebuild was to gain depth. They wanted to add players who could help give the starters some rest.

"It is such a short offseason and they've already played two games - they have a loss and a draw.

"But they have to get up to speed very fast because the season actually does wind up going very, very quickly — especially when you're behind. And the Sounders knew that last year."

Thiel is referring to the Sounders' big comeback last year - going from ninth place to winning the MLS Cup.

Reintegrating Dempsey

A short offseason isn't the Sounders' only challenge. They're also having to reintegrate star forward Clint Dempsey into the team.

"The irony in all of this is that their best player was out [for their championship run]," Thiel said. "Dempsey left the team in August when he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.

"He's received treatment [and] medication now and everyone anticipated that he would come back relatively slowly because he hasn't played a game in six months. And that's never happened in his career. You want to try to measure his minutes.

"Well, that didn't work quite the way they thought it would because he played 90 minutes in the first game and 90 minutes in the second game.

"So [there's] that whole drama of 'How do you deal with your best player who's now 34 and had a health issue for the first time playing a big role?'

"He played very little [last season] with their star midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, who was the difference maker in the on-field production last year. He led the rally from ninth place into the playoffs and, eventually, the MLS championship.

"He and Dempsey have had very little time together and the two of them need to integrate with rookie of the year Jordan Morris.

"So, I think fans should keep an eye on how Dempsey integrates. That's going to be the drama of the season."

Mixing The Old And The New

In addition to Dempsey, Thiel said some other well-known veteran players are returning. But he also noted that the team has acquired some younger talent.

"Ozzie Alonso is back. Stefan Frei is in goal. Brad Evans would be with the team but he's out with a leg injury and he'll be out another three or four weeks.

"Those veterans are still around but they had to get younger - especially with American players - to get some depth.

"They really needed Harry Shipp. He's midfielder from the Chicago area. He's only 25. And Will Bruin is a 27-year-old midfielder that they've added. They've had MLS experience but are not international players.

"They are going to be joining a young guy from the University of Washington, Cristian Roldan, who got a lot of minutes of last year as a rookie. And they are the future.

"They've got a number of guys over 30, like Chad Marshall and Roman Torres.

"By the way, Torres was suspended for the [home] opener because he was a bad boy in the second game and was called for too much violent action.

"Of course, he's the guy who scored the final penalty kick that won the MLS Cup. So, in Seattle he could do no wrong. But, in the MLS' eyes, he's going to be sitting out Sunday.

"But, anyway, the Sounders had to get younger. And, eventually, they're going to have to get tougher and better as the season goes.

"This may be a slow start but they can't let it get as slow as last year because repeating that rally is not going to happen a second time in a row."

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.