Sounders FC didn’t want its offseason to begin so soon.
Nevertheless, it began Wednesday with the final whistle of Salt Lake’s 3-2 aggregate-score series win at CenturyLink Field. And after taking Thursday off, the Sounders won’t allow much more time before turning their attention to a 2012 season that will begin earlier than usual.
“We’ve got things to do, meetings to do and things like that, and get offseason programs organized,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “We have an early start to our program next year because we’re in the Champions League, so we’ve got to be prepared for that.”
The Sounders’ offseason will end March 6-8, with the first leg of CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal games. Those aggregate-score series will resolve March 13-15.
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CONCACAF has announced that the draw to set the pairings will be held Tuesday at confederation headquarters in New York.
For clubs that advance, the semifinal legs will be March 27-29 and April 3-5. The finals will be begin April 17-19 and resolve April 24-26.
All of that will unfold very close to the start of the 2012 Major League Soccer season. The new schedule hasn’t been released, but there have been reports the First Kick match could be played March 8, which would be the earliest in league history.
One of Seattle’s top offseason priorities is a return to health for key personnel.
In the Salt Lake game, midfielders Brad Evans (ankle) and Alvaro Fernandez (hamstring) went out with first-half injuries. They joined midfielder Steve Zakuani (leg) and Mauro Rosales (knee), and forward O’Brian White (leg) as potential starters who weren’t available at the end of the 2011 season but who should be ready for the start of 2012.
“I’ve got no problem adding those guys,” Schmid said. “… I think the more quality players you have the better it is, and you just have more options. Eventually they compete against each other and the strong survive and become better and your team becomes better overall.”
Questions about Rosales go beyond his health to include his contract status.
However, general manager Adrian Hanauer has long maintained that he expects no problem in working out a contract extension, and Rosales confirmed that Wednesday.
“I think next week we’re going to finish everything,” he said. “I can be here, and I’m very confident that everything is going to work.”
The injuries this season created playing time for young players such as midfielder Lamar Neagle of Federal Way. However, Neagle said he will welcome the return of those veterans.
“Definitely with those guys we’re going to be a lot stronger,” Neagle said. “You can definitely tell we’re going to be a really strong team with these guys coming back, and hopefully not have the injuries next year.”
The return of those players also could create the kind of depth that will demand painful decisions regarding who to protect on the expansion draft list due Nov. 21. And the personnel loss to the expansion Montreal Impact on Nov. 23 could be significant.
The Sounders already know they will head into the new season without retired goalkeeper Kasey Keller, whose playing career ended Wednesday.
However, after taking off his jersey for the final time, Keller implied his time within the Sounders’ organization may continue.
“I’d be real surprised if I weren’t floating around here in some capacity in the next few years,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be too far away.”
Hanauer has said the club plans to bring in a veteran goalkeeper, perhaps from the international market.
The club also will add younger players from the SuperDraft on Jan. 12 and a supplemental draft Jan. 17.
DATES TO REMEMBER
Tuesday: CONCACAF quarterfinal draw
Nov. 21: Expansion protected list due
Nov. 23: Montreal expansion draft
Jan. 12: MLS SuperDraft
Jan. 17: Supplemental draft
March 6-8: Start of CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals
March 8: Potential MLS First Kick