- Associated Press - Saturday, January 25, 2014

TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) - From the time last season ended, Osvaldo Alonso knew the Seattle Sounders would look significantly different.

After the Sounders tumbled from the top of the Major League Soccer standings in mid-September to scrambling for a playoff spot by the end of October, the midfield stalwart who has been with the team since its inception in 2009 figured some fallout was inevitable.

“We made some changes, so it is what is,” said Alonso, a four-time team MVP and one of three Sounders with top-tier designated player status. “We have to help our new teammates get ready for the season.”

Those teammates Saturday on the first day of camp no longer include goal-scoring threat and U.S. national teamer Eddie Johnson (traded to D.C. United), starting goalkeeper Michael Gspurning (contract option declined) and Mauro Rosales (traded to Chivas USA).

But on a foggy, frosty morning, Seattle’s group did include forward Kenny Cooper (32 goals in the last three seasons combined at Portland, New York and FC Dallas, two-time MLS Defender of the Year Chad Marshall (acquired from Columbus), and goalkeeper Stefan Frei (acquired from Toronto).

The Sounders eventually will have three U.S. national team candidates back with the team, as well. Midfielder Brad Evans and defender DeAndre Yedlin are currently in camp with the World Cup-bound American squad. Midfielder and U.S. national team captain Clint Dempsey is on a two-month loan to Fulham of the English Premier League.

Dempsey’s arrival late last August immediately sparked talk of an MLS Cup in Seattle. He wound up with just one goal and no assists in nine games, but coach Sigi Schmid expects better production this season, even though Dempsey will be splitting time between the Sounders and the U.S. team until after the World Cup

“It’s easier than last year because we know he’s going to be coming, and we know what he can bring,” Schmid said. “The guys know him better because they’ve played with him, although some (of the newcomers) have not. I have a good idea of where he’s going to plug in.”

Although he’s the only coach Sounders have had since joining MLS in 2009, Schmid’s own job was in question after an 0-5-2 finish to the regular season and 5-3 aggregate ouster by Portland in the Western Conference semifinals.

Schmid knew that merely tweaking the roster wouldn’t be good enough.

“One of our goals was to become more athletic, younger, and faster,” he said. “We wanted to get some young centerbacks in there as well, because we felt we had a whole group sort of growing old together. I think we accomplished that, and now, we just have to finish up a little bit at midfield.”

The Sounders have set MLS attendance records in each of their first five seasons. An average of 44,038 flocked to CenturyLink Field last year, with two crowds of more than 50,000, and two of more than 65,000. But they have yet to reward those fans with an MLS Cup or an appearance in the final, although three U.S. Open Cups are in the trophy case.

Even in a city now caught up in the frenzy of the Super Bowl-bound Seahawks, about 150 of those fans showed up to watch Saturday’s first practice in spite of the crispy conditions.

Alonso said that this team, even with all of its newcomers, has to deliver.

“We have a lot of pressure. We have to win MLS,” he said. “We’ve been five years without winning MLS.”

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

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