What can Sounders FC do for an encore?
One year after a wildly successful expansion season, the Sounders FC will try to improve as it opens the MLS season against the Philadelphia Union on Thursday at Qwest Field.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Season opener, Philadelphia @ Sounders FC, 6:30 p.m., ESPN2
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After reaching triumphant levels of success on and off the field last year, the Sounders FC now faces a daunting task in its second season of Major League Soccer.
Repeating the magic.
With record-breaking attendance and U.S. Open Cup championship, not to mention a playoff berth, achievements came quickly last season. The excitement surrounding Seattle's rookie campaign had some fans saying it was the best season anyone could have hoped for.
But last year's "best" isn't good enough anymore. Not for a franchise that is constantly searching for ways to improve — even after a dream season.
"Every single department in our organization thinks about that on a daily basis — how we get better," said general manager Adrian Hanauer.
And with bigger things in mind for 2010, Seattle kicks off the 15th season of MLS in front of a sold-out crowd and a national television audience at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Qwest Field against the expansion Philadelphia Union.
Coach Sigi Schmid hopes one thing won't change this season.
"More so than anything for me, it's all about wanting to hear that roar at Qwest Field again," said Schmid, whose team beat New York 3-0 in the 2009 opener. "It was unbelievable last year. It was very emotional last year. To be honest, I don't expect it to be any less emotional this year."
While the emotions might be the same, Schmid is hoping for better production throughout the season.
The Sounders FC successes in ticket sales and marketing might have topped its rivals around MLS, but the team's performance on the field has far from peaked.
"It's easier to climb the mountain than stay on top of it, sometimes," Schmid said. "For us right now, we're still not on top of the mountain. There are still things we want to achieve."
An MLS Cup would be a good place to start. In fact, many writers and publications around the country have listed Seattle as one of the top picks to win the championship this season.
The sudden role of the favorite, midfielder Peter Vagenas said, is going to take some adjustment.
"It's important that we brace ourselves. We're not going to sneak up on anybody," said Vagenas, a 12-year MLS veteran. "People are not going to come in here astonished by the crowd or atmosphere anymore."
Steve Zakuani, the team's No. 1 overall draft pick last season, took it further.
"I think we spoiled ourselves and the fans a little last year," Zakuani said. "What we did last year, it was a case of anything we did, everyone got excited. We won the first game at home, everyone got excited. We scored three goals, everyone got excited. Because everything was new. But this year, if we win at home it's, 'So what? You're supposed to.' And that's the danger."
Sounders FC players and coaches don't anticipate the expectations being an issue. One more year together has made the group more comfortable and confident. The team, in fact, shares those lofty goals.
Consensus is there's no ceiling for the 2010 season.
"We know realistically what we can do," Zakuani said. "But it won't be easy."
Freddie Ljungberg, who faced his share of heavy expectations playing in England, said creating a routine in game preparation is the best way to deal with pressure, whether for a playoff game or a scrimmage.
"I don't mess around, even if it's against a bad opponent and we're up 3-nil," Ljungberg said. "I'll do it proper, and hopefully I'll get better."
If outside pressure grows, the best solution might come from within, said Vagenas.
"I think it's important as individuals, as a coaching staff, everyone, that we stay internally motivated," he said. "If we bring that energy out to every game and let the soccer sort of sort itself out, we'll be OK."
Whether they'll be more successful remains to be seen.
• The team announced the signings of midfielder David Estrada, the team's first-round draft pick out of UCLA, and forward Michael Fucito, a second-year player out of Harvard.
• Jeff Parke, who has trained with the team for over a month, remains with the team but is unsigned. Miguel Montano is also not officially added to the roster as the team awaits his international clearance.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.