BY Todd Dybas 11:55PM 03/07/2012

Dybas: Sounders’ holdover core takes to newness

Kasey Keller’s departure and a late trade for Eddie Johnson shook things up, but the Sounders remain steadfast with a key group led by Mauro Rosales.

David Estrada scored the first goal Wednesday night on a backside header in the 12th minute. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Marketing masterminds dubbed the Sounders’ fresh third kit Super Cyan. Inspired by the color palette in a bag of gum drops, the blue and sort of green was seemed old hat compared to other fresh starts Wednesday, since it had been previously worn in a training match in Cancun.

The match was padded by new. It was the kit’s competitive debut for the home crowd. Same goes for forward Eddie Johnson, who was feted upon entrance in the 78th minute. The grumbling quaked the Internet when Johnson was acquired for youngsters Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle three weeks back. Only cheers Wednesday.

Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning was draped in yellow, or perhaps in marketing-speak, it’s known as Bonzo Bananaroo, for his first match in front of the home folks. He replaced Seattle’s bastion of grump, Kasey Keller, the new broadcaster who took in a halftime dish of apple cobbler in the press box while in a winter coat.

It’s change. This is not an overhaul, however. The new guys combined with a remaining core to fend off Santos Laguna of Mexico 2-1 in a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal before an ardent 23,433 at chilled CenturyLink Field.

For the 2012 Sounders, responsibility has turned more than the most important parts of the roster.

Keller exited through a side tunnel postgame, able to eschew the waiting media and go home at his leisure for once.

It’s a matter of time until midfielder Mauro Rosales is named Keller’s formal replacement, though he is now the de facto captain. Rosales is short, shaggy and purposely grows a dash of hair under the middle of his bottom lip. He’s also a fueled-up version of Freddie Ljungberg, decimating the midfield with sidewinding awareness and attacking.

Keller’s replacement in goal is the quirky, witty import Gspurning. He trumps Keller in remaining cranial hair, but trails him in experience. The stalwarts of the backline — Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Leo Gonzalez — are adjusting to their new keeper. It will be a challenge for Gspurning, who was at no fault for Wednesday’s lone goal, to earn the belief so easily reserved for Keller.

“Mike’s a good goalie and he’s fitting in well,” Parke said. “Only time will tell. Kasey, you can’t really compare anybody to him. Obviously for our team he’s meant a lot, he’s our captain and leader of our team, the vocal guy in the back. Some big shoes to fill.”

Gspurning, is 30, Austrian and chill. There has been a noticeable difference between him and Keller on the pitch: The expletive-filled ranting has been reduced.

“Yeah, because I don’t think Mike knows the bad language yet,” Parke said with a laugh. “His vocabulary’s limited. He’s not the same character, not the same type of guy, a bit more mellow and conservative.”

The 2012 Sounders rely on Parke, Rosales, Alvaro Fernandez, Fredy Montero and buzzsaw Osvaldo Alonso.

The signings have been melded into a confluence of international playmakers and steadiness on the backline.

Johnson and his national team fame were brought in late. His arrival kicked two fan favorites to Montreal. Johnson thinks the proof is in the pudding, whether it’s his pending play in Seattle or when compared to Herculez Gomez, who scored Wednesday for Santos Laguna.

“I don’t feel like I need to win over the fans,” Johnson said. “I think when I came in, the fans all showed me a great reception. I think the fans all know what I can do.

“I think at some point, when I was playing and scoring goals, a lot of those guys out there were fans of mine. They all know what I can do. I never want to be involved with losing two fan favorite players to acquire me. That’s the business part of the game that I can’t control.

“I think I’m in the right environment with a team that creates a lot of goal-scoring chances and I know the fans are going to see a lot of goals this year.”

The franchise has always sought to be an international influence. Advancing to the semifinals of CCL play via a positive result in Mexico Wednesday would be a massive step toward doing so.

This group, now well-removed from the bombast of being a new franchise, has that chance with this evolved roster. Add in scrapping performances such as that of David Estrada, who opened the scoring Saturday, to bench depth, and Seattle hopes it finally found a premium blend.

“There have been a lot of changes this year, but there are eight or nine players that are still the core of the team,” Fernandez said. “We have been playing together for a little over a year now. The new guys that came to the team gotten have into the rotation very quickly.”

That’s apparent early, no matter how they are dressed.


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