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Why Sounders Are Off To Worst Start In Team History

SoundersMorrisSchmid.jpg
Ted S. Warren
/
AP Photo
Sounders forward Jordan Morris, right, walks past head coach Sigi Schmid after being subbed out in the second half of a CONCACAF Champions League soccer quarterfinal against Club America, Feb. 23, 2016, in Seattle.

The Seattle Sounders have a break from Major League Soccer play until April 2. But their best players aren’t getting a rest.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says that’s not helping the team, which is off to the worst start in franchise history.

'Debilitating' Start

You'd expect sports media types and fans to be up in arms about the Sounders' 0-3 start. But head coach Sigi Schmid?

"It was kind of funny after the game last Saturday [2-1 loss to Whitecaps], he talked about jobs being at stake because the Sounders have never been 0-3 to start a season," Thiel said.

"I think a lot of people are expecting some problems getting going, but this has really been kind of debilitating.

"The Sounders are a much better team - based on salary, talent level and experience - than they’re showing.

"In addition to the MLS 0-3 start, they also lost to Club America in the Champions League competition [of CONCACAF] that started the season. They looked bad doing it, too, in losing 3-1 in Mexico City.

"It sort of chilled their aspirations to be a world-class club when they can’t get into the finals, at least, in the Champions League," Thiel said.

Loss Of Martins Still Stings

Thiel said the surprise departure of star striker Obafemi Martins to China is still impacting the team.

"That’s been a big blow," he said.

"The Chinese [Super League] is starting to be predatory when it comes to international players. He was eligible to be taken and he went for more money – much more money than the Sounders were ever going to be paying him.

"Not only was it late in the offseason but it deprived star forward Clint Dempsey of a great partner. Those guys really did develop a chemistry. They were the toughest tandem in the league to defend."

Young Star Still Trying To Fit In

The replacement for Martins is Jordan Morris.

"Jordan Morris grew up on Mercer Island, went to Stanford, was the college player of the year. He’s America’s great hope in terms of the next great U.S. soccer player," Thiel noted.

"Some have already analogized him to Landon Donovan, the retired star. But he’s only 21 and it’s going to take time - and that’s something they haven’t had yet - to work with Dempsey.

"It’s a big step up for any collegian into MLS and it’s just going to take time. And they’re not getting time because there are lots of things going on in the soccer world."

Then There Are The Call Ups

Morris, Dempsey and four other Sounders are playing internationally in the next couple of weeks. Major League Soccer is on hiatus to accommodate these international tournaments.

The first is the Olympics, happening in Rio in August.

"The U.S. Men's National Under-23 Soccer Team always represents the U.S.," Thiel said. "Jordan Morris is going to practice with them because I think he’s going to be a key star.

"Dempsey is with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team and they are in World Cup qualifying.

"Four other [Sounders] players are also going on the World Cup qualifying trail. So that leaves nothing going on with the Sounders in terms of practice.

"It’s part of the woodwork in international soccer. You have to accommodate the season schedule to these international tournaments.

"But it’s very frustrating when you’re a team like the Sounders that needs practice time together to integrate the new players with the veterans.

"It just isn’t working out very well for them now. They really need to get on the board or, as Sigi said, people are going to be looking for their jobs."

NOTE: After this commentary was recorded, the Sounders announced they had added a veteran striker to their roster, which should help ease the sting of the Obafemi Martins departure. Herculez Gomez  played for Toronto FC last year and, before that, with several different teams in Mexico.

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

Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between historylink.org and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.
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