In their final game of 2014, the Seattle Sounders started 10 players combining for an average age of 30.4 years.
Not counting departing defender DeAndre Yedlin, 21, no starter was younger than 27. Over the entire 18-man, game-day roster, fully half of the players were 30 or older. And since the end of the season last weekend, one has announced his retirement and two are considering it.
And yet, the Sounders believe their window of opportunity for a MLS Cup title remains wide open as they head into the 2015 season and beyond.
“I truly believe that we were the best team in Major League Soccer in 2014,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said this week. “ … We’re very confident in the organization and the infrastructure that we have to be a solid and championship team for years to come.”
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Most significantly, the team doesn’t see 30 as a significant number indicating the end of the career. The front office and coaching staff believe there is plenty of life left in key veterans such as Clint Dempsey (31), Obafemi Martins (30) and Chad Marshall (30).
“In the old days when you got to be 31, 32, it was basically career was over,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “Now you see guys on the field playing until 34, 35, 36 and still being effective. So that’s something that we continue to hope to do, because we’ve got some guys crossing into that 30-year threshold, but we still believe they can still be effective.”
For others a bit further down the line — perhaps 34-year-old defenders Zach Scott and Leo Gonzalez — the club believes it has the financial flexibility for infusion of younger talent. Someone also must be found at right back, which Yedlin is expected to vacate when he begins his transfer to Tottenham of the English Premier League later this month.
“We always try and look one or two windows ahead, so even at the beginning of the year in January we were already looking at what our needs were going to be for ’15,” sporting director Chris Henderson said. “It’s ongoing. We have a list of guys. … Maybe the defense is a place we’ve looked at, but there’s other pieces, too, that we want to improve.”
Even before the official close of the league season Sunday when New England visits Los Angeles for the MLS Cup, Seattle’s roster has begun to churn.
On Thursday the club announced that it had declined the contract options on eight players — none of them regulars during the franchise-best 20-10-4 season. One was reserve goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, who has announced his retirement. Another was No. 3 keeper Josh Ford.
The club has said it retains faith in Ford, and he might return. However, the moves leave starter Stefan Frei as the only goalkeeper now on the roster, and that leaves at least a couple of keepers on the offseason shopping list: one experienced enough to help in MLS, CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Open Cup; the other a younger prospect for the club to develop, perhaps with the Sounders 2 USL Pro team.
Finally, the club also is likely to lose up to two players in the expansion draft, which will stock the new Orlando and New York City franchises. MLS teams will be allowed to protect 11 players. The lists will go to the new clubs Monday, and the draft will be Wednesday.
“How you decide to protect and who not to protect is a little bit of a game,” Schmid said. “It’s not always a reflection of ‘Oh, these are what they think are the best 11 players.’ Sometimes you’re looking at what are the expansion teams’ needs, what are they most likely to take. … At the end of the day it’s never perfect, and at the end I’m sure we expect to lose a couple of guys.”