The offseason got underway the moment Atlanta United FC beat the Portland Timbers for the 2018 MLS Cup. That meant FC Cincinnati officially entered its first offseason in Major League Soccer.
The club has already begun building its roster, but there is still much to be done. Several other clubs have walked a similar path to their first season. Here is the first in our series on how recent MLS clubs were built, beginning with the first expansion team in the new era: Seattle Sounders FC.
2009 Seattle Sounders FC (12-7-11, 47 points – 3rd place, Western Conference)
The entrance of Seattle Sounders FC into MLS was a long time coming. Seattle earned its place in American soccer through the original Sounders. That franchise played in the old NASL between 1974 to 1983. Later, a new version of the Sounders (1994-2008) opened in the United Soccer League and lasted until MLS granted Seattle an expansion club. In 2009, Seattle Sounders FC took the field as the first new club in MLS’s new era.
The Sounders front office aimed to compete immediately, which meant hiring an experienced and accomplished head coach. Fortunately, one was available. The Sounders hired two-time MLS Cup winning manager Sigi Schmid, who was coming off leading the Columbus Crew to a title. Schmid later led the Sounders to four U.S. Open Cup championships and one Supporter’s Shield while becoming the most successful head coach in American soccer history.
First Three Picks
Seattle focused on building a stable core of role players in the expansion draft. It led off the draft by addressing the forward position. The Sounders drafted Houston Dynamo forward Nate Jaqua, who appeared in 66 matches and registered nine goals and nine assists during his three seasons in Seattle.
Midfielder Nathan Sturgis heard his name called in the second round. The midfielder/defender played in 29 matches and tallied four points during his brief two-year stay.
Seattle found a solid veteran with defender Jeff Parke in the third round. Parke missed the 2009 season, but he provided a strong defensive presence for the club between 2010-2012. During that time, Parke started 77 of his 78 matches with the club.
Shaky Fourth Through Sixth Rounds
In the fourth round, the Sounders took a flier on young forward Jarrod Smith. It didn’t work out, and he never played in another MLS game. Seattle selected former New England Revolution midfielder Khano Smith in the fifth round. It traded him to the New York Red Bulls for allocation money. The Sounders then kicked the tires on midfielder Peter Vagenas. His game-time dwindled during the last part of his nine years with the Los Angeles Galaxy, and it didn’t get any better in Seattle. Vagenas played in only 21 matches in two years before finishing his career first with Vancouver and then Chivas USA.
Stability at the End
Seventh-round pick Tyson Wahl spent three seasons as a spot starter for the Sounders. The defender Wahl appeared in 39 matches (33 starts), scoring one goal and registering three assists. He later played for Colorado, Montreal and Columbus before retiring.
The Sounders selected another defender, James Riley, in the eighth round. Riley proved to be one of the club’s best expansion picks, starting 87 matches in three seasons.
Midfielder Stephen King didn’t live up to the legendary career of his writing namesake. Instead, he played in only 10 matches for the Sounders and had little impact on the club.
However, the Sounders more than made up for it with their final pick in the expansion draft. They took midfielder/forward Brad Evans with the pick, and it more than paid off for a franchise in need of a stable hand. Evans appeared in 200 matches and won an MLS Cup in Seattle. He scored 17 goals with nine assists during his tenure, which ended following the 2017 campaign.
Overall, the Sounders focused on finding role players in the expansion draft that could contribute for a couple seasons. For the most part, they accomplished that goal, which helped build one of the league’s most stable clubs.
2009 MLS SuperDraft
First Round – Pick 1 – Steve Zakuani, F, Akron
The Sounders took Steve Zakuani with an eye towards establishing their future at the forward position. He entered MLS after leading the NCAA in goals (20) and points (47) as a sophomore. Zakuani scored four goals and tallied seven points overall as a rookie, but he was never able to live up to his billing.
Colorado Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan broke Zakuani’s leg on a brutal slide tackle during a match in 2011, which resulted in a 10-game suspension. Unfortunately, Zakuani was out much longer and was not the same player when he returned. Zakuani retired at age 26.
Second Round – Pick 16 – Evan Brown, D, Wake Forest
Seattle addressed the back line with the decorated Brown. He supported a strong defense that shut out opponents 14 times as an outside back at Wake Forest in 2008. The Sounders released him following the 2009 season. Brown never played in a regular season MLS match.
Third Round – Pick 31 – Jared Karkas, D, Azusa Pacific
Karkas never played in an MLS game.
Fourth Round – Pick 46 – Michael Fucito, M, Harvard
Fucito did not appear in a game and was released after the 2009 season. The Sounders invited him to training camp in 2010, and he made the roster. Fucito played in 23 games and scored three goals for the Sounders from 2010-2011.
Building the Core
The Sounders build their core around an aging U.S. national team goalkeeper and a young frontline. They believed that veteran leadership in the back combined with a stable midfield and a fast, aggressive set of forwards would give them an edge. The plan worked.
Seattle’s big signing came in the form of goalkeeper Kasey Keller. A long-time fan favorite, Keller joined the Sounders after spending most of his career playing overseas. The 39-year-old Keller spent much of his previous career in the English Premier League with Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton and Fulham, but he also spent time in Germany and Spain.
He gave the Sounders the leadership he needed to help them compete immediately in MLS. Keller finished 12-11-5 with 10 clean sheets during his first MLS season and followed it up with two more solid seasons before retiring. He remains popular in Seattle to this day.
Chris Eylander served as one of Keller’s backups during the 2009 season. He began his career with the USL Sounders and was one of the few players that transitioned over to the MLS Sounders. He played in only one MLS match before retiring. The same goes for fellow backup goalkeeper Ben Dragavon.
Seattle’s quest to add veteran leadership to the back line resulted in a trade for 34-year-old defender and two-time MLS All-Star Tyrone Marshall from Toronto FC for allocation money. James Riley and newly signed 24-year-old Jhon Kennedy Hurtado combined with Marshall to build the core of the Sounders back line for the next three seasons. Hurtado actually stayed with the team through the 2013 season.
Several other defenders joined the roster as primarily subs or spot starters for the first season, including Wahl, Patrick Ianni, and Leonardo Gonzalez. Ianni and Gonzalez become important members of the roster in coming years.
There were several players that played multiple positions for the Sounders during that opening season, including Roger Levesque and Sébastien LeToux. However, one devoted midfielders manned the position throughout the campaign.
Osvaldo Alonso joined the club from the Charleston Battery in January 2009. He became the centerpiece of the Sounders midfield for almost a decade. His tenure began as the most stable midfielder on the roster and ended with him serving as a captain. Alonso finally entered free agency following the 2018 season. He played in 300 matches for the Sounders in his career.
Other notable midfielders include Nathan Sturgis, Zach Scott, Sanna Nyassi, Stephen King and Peter Vagenas.
Several players filtered back and forth between the midfield and forward position. Le Toux provided solid minutes as one of the holdovers from the USL Sounders, but he earned his stripes with the expansion Philadelphia Union in 2010.
Former Arsenal and West Ham veteran Freddie Ljungberg signed on as a designated player soon after Sounders were named as an expansion team. Ljungberg lasted only two years, but he often energized the Sounders in big matches during his first campaign.
Levesque provided stellar play as a spot starter during his tenure. His true value is in what happened after his career. Levesque became a large part of the Sounders organization. In 2014, the club hired him as the Director of Community Outreach.
Finally, there is Fredy Montero. The Sounders acquired the then 21-year-old Montero on loan from Deportivo Cali in 2009. Many experts across the league touted Montero as a future star. While he never quite reached that level, Montero produced 47 goals during his four years in Seattle. He later signed with Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon. Together, Montero and Jaqua led the team in goals during the inaugural season.
The Sounders did a solid job building a roster for their first season. Focusing on youth in the front and veteran leadership in back served them well throughout the season. They also acquired several players that served as cornerstones for the roster for at least three years and a couple beyond that. Seattle relied little on expensive veterans. Instead, it invested in Montero, who gave it steady goal-scoring in four years, Evans and Alonso. The decisions panned out. FC Cincinnati would do well to follow this example for building a franchise.