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  1. While I found it pretty easy to get my head around Rachel’s future - effectively that she should do whatever she wanted without needing to justify it to anybody else - trying to fathom my own team’s performances was a little more difficult. On the one hand, we would put in displays like that against the Rapids over in Colorado. At the time they were our closest challengers in the conference, and despite falling behind to an early goal from Junior Marquez we blew them away in a superb half hour either side of half time. First it was Shannon to the rescue, drawing us level with a bullet of a header from a full 15 yards out, and then it was over to Christian Bustos to take control of the game and swing it completely in our favour. His first goal was classic play from an attack-minded midfielder, timing a late run perfectly to sweep home a ball from the edge of the area. His second was simply sublime, a right-footed spiralling effort that brushed the inside of the far post before nestling in the back of the net. At 3-1, the Rapids had no way back, and our Argentine genius showed us why letting Cacau go was no big deal. But just a week later, back in Open Cup action away at the Railhawks, even another exemplary showing from our young playmaker couldn’t hide our obvious flaws. As cup holders and outright favourites for the tie, we were left with red faces as Nathan Barlow beat young Hunter Wright with a shimmy and then Brent Sassano with a shot before any of my rotated Sounders had even touched the ball. The home fans loved it of course, but I was not amused. That man Bustos made it three goals in two goals with a cool finish before the clock ticked into double figures, and from that point we looked to be in control. Homero Cano, getting what was becoming an increasingly rare start for the former Golden Boot winner, took advantage of his opportunity and our pressure with the go-ahead goal on the half hour mark, and at half-time we looked relatively comfortable. But again we lost sight of that man Barlow within minutes of the restart, allowing the Carolina club to tie the game at 2-2. Our defence, and indeed entire side was heavily rotated, but even so there was something about the way we simply watched him glide into the penalty area without even a hint of a challenge that made me increasingly worried for the remainder of our campaign. Where I needn’t have worried was up front, where our superior firepower eventually pulled us through. A second from Bustos just after the hour, followed three minutes later by a goal for Jon Shannon with his first touch of the ball, all but sealed the deal for us, and when fellow replacement Cho bent in a free-kick for our third goal in just 10 minutes, our earlier frailty had been banished. And yet there was still time for an unlucky name to crop up on the scoresheet for the Railhawks, once again showing our defensive issues to the watching world. Once a fully-fledged international and mainstay of midfield for both Schalke and Tottenham, at the age of 34 none other than Lewis Holtby found himself in semi-retirement in Carolina. Brought on as a half-time substitute, with 10 minutes to play our defence simply backed off and backed off, allowing the German the space to hit a 25-yard drive that proved exactly how good he had once been. Sassano stood no chance, the home fans celebrated the goal of the game, and the 5-3 scoreline flattered us, settled only by a 10-minute blitz. We still had work to do. So of course our next match, three days later at Chivas USA, saw us slow, sluggish, out of sorts and all over the place. A toe-poked Wes Parsons goal earned the hosts the win in a match which saw us receive just 36 per cent of possession and muster a pitiful six shots on goal. Having been rested for the Railhawks tie, tiredness could be no excuse for my lethargic stars, and they had the riot act read to them on the long journey home. We were well-placed for the rest of the season, but you would not guess so from our performance.
  2. “Do you not just think it’d be a bit of a waste of time darling?” It was a big question, but it was retrospective and even if Rachel was right, there was nothing she could do about it now. The fortunate thing about it was that she was far from right. “Darling, why did you want to do that MBA in the first place?” There was a pause. That was good. “Well, I wanted to get the qualifications to go with my experience I guess.” “No, why did you want to do the MBA at the time? Not now.” There was another pause before the reply. “I think I was lonely, I wanted to meet people on a more regular basis, I wanted to test myself. I wanted to see if I could do it.” Rachel, several months on from completing her studies and without work, was beginnning to question whether or not she had wasted her time - something she was not short of with the girls at school - and our money - again, something we were not lacking - on a qualification she was never going to use. “What I’m trying to show you darling, is that the MBA was never about whether or not you work again or not. It was about you stretching yourself, proving to yourself you could do it. Part of it was even about getting out the house, wasn’t it?” “I guess so…” “So which part of it exactly has been a waste of time?” Silence. “Darling, there’s no shame in deciding you don’t want to put yourself in a high-pressure position and never see the girls again. There’s no shame in settling for something run-of-the-mill if that’s what you want to do, or staying at home if you’d rather. You don’t owe it to anyone, do you?” “No, no I don’t.” “And just because you’ve changed your mind - or think you might have - doesn’t make anything wrong. Now come here and give me a hug.” Rachel did as she was told. “You know what Owain, you might just be right. Bethan is growing up far too fast, Rebecca isn’t far behind her, and we’re still young. I think I might just take my time making my mind up.” She reached up to kiss me. “You know Owain, I do like it when you get all self-righteous."
  3. The fixture list was kind, throwing us the best possible match with which to bounce back. We would begin our US Open Cup defence at home against the lowly Western Mass Pioneers, an amateur outfit plying their trade in the USL Premier Development League - a division which boasted absolutely nothing of MLS quality. And yet, and I sat on the bench watching my heavily-rotated side cruise to a 3-0 win - the highlight being an early goal for promising defensive talent Hunter Wright - I couldn’t help but wonder how much control I was actually exerting on the team. In theory I could have selected any combination of players, within reason, and expected to beat the Pioneers comfortably. My own role on the touchline was, to my mind at least, in question. And yet just a couple of days later, after chatting things through with Clint Dempsey, I authorised the sale of a player which in many ways reassured me of my impact on the Sounders franchise. It was not a sale I was particularly keen to go ahead with at first, but after taking off my rose-tinted glasses, I was able to see the sense in the move. Cacau was nothing short of revelatory in my first season in Seattle, and indeed his set-pieces alone probably prevented us becoming an embarrassing footnote in a poor season for the club. The Brazilian was a mercurial talent in the attacking midfield role, popping up with goals and assists in good numbers, and providing the firepower that we so desperately needed. Yet even in the title-winning year, the arrival of first Marco Reus and then Bheka Sibandze meant his contribution was less important, the goals and assisted shared more widely throughout the team and less focused on my first marquee signing. He still chipped in with the odd moment of magic, but we were no longer built around the Brazilian. Now, with the arrival of Cho and Bustos in the same position, even with Reus’ legs beginning to fail him, Cacau was not even guaranteed a place on the bench, let alone in the starting line-up. He was, to use an awful word to describe another human being, dispensable. And so, when his agent demanded that we grant him Designated Player status in order to renew his expiring contract, Dempsey knew that the writing was on the wall. I needed more convincing, but the truth was soon obvious - Cacau was not good enough to warrant such a deal, and if we weren’t to lose him for nothing, we needed to sell him. As such, when Red Bull Salzburg, the kings of Austria and regular participants in the UEFA Champions League group stages, came calling with a $4m bid, we couldn’t find a reason to turn it down. Within 24 hours, Cacau had said his goodbyes, cleared out his locker, and moved on - no hard feelings, no tears, just a sense of gratitude for his opportunity and a closed door. Cacau was Sounders past, and we were far more concerned about both the present and future. In the week that followed the departure of my first talisman, it was business as usual for the current crop of players. First of all we put our recent bad form behind us to net twice early on against FC Dallas - a 25-yard rocket from Ollie Cosgriff the highlight - before shutting up shop after a late consolation from the visitors. Four days later, back on duty in the Open Cup, we repeated the trick - score early, concede late - to see off Chivas USA and book a quarter-final tie against the Carolina Railhawks. We were back in business, and I was back in control.
  4. I sat silently in the bowels of the Rio Tinto Stadium, the players waiting outside for their manager in the May drizzle. They knew I was upset - I had told them as much at the full-time whistle - but more galling even than their performance was the nagging sensation that I had been here before. I had been in charge at Prestatyn when careless errors and complacency had allowed TNS and Neal Ardley to get the better of us in the title race. I had been on the wrong end of defeats in local derbies that mattered to no-one beyond the few hundred souls in crowds in Rhyl and Bangor, and they had hurt. I hated the feeling of losing control. In Australia, I had watched as my team limped to defeat against Melbourne Victory, even taking a verbal warning from my crooked employer at the time. At the end of that same season, with everybody’s mind on the Champions League, I had been powerless to prevent Brisbane Roar taking both our league crown and play-off title. It had hurt badly. Now, here the States, in charge of the reigning champions, with the biggest budget in the league and the finest all-round squad ever to grace MLS, I once again sat powerless after witnessing my team throw everything away, apparently with no real rhyme or reason to the abject nature of their display. I couldn’t see a way out, and it hurt. One week ago, my lethal front four had fired off no fewer than 18 shots against San Jose - a respectable number and one indicative of our control of possession. In most encounters it would be enough to win comfortably, however on this particular occasion our collective shooting boots had gone missing. Not one of those 18 efforts found the target, nor even forced the Earthquakes’ goalkeeper to make a save, and of course as the game wore on it was inevitable that the visitors would net a winner. They did, and our unbeaten run came to an end. On that occasion, I had just about been able to chalk it up to bad luck, and focus on the next game - this one, away at Real Salt Lake. This time, we would let fly with 27 efforts to our hosts’ nine, finding the target with a meagre six, and scoring with one - Homero Cano’s fine driven effort just after the hour. However, Jake Downing alone hit the target with four of his side’s nine shots, and two of them - either side of Cano’s strike - found their way beyond Santiago and into the back of our net. Neither my tactical tinkering nor my substitutions did anything to alter the pattern of the game, and for the first time in a long while we suffered back-to-back defeats. For the first time since my inconsistent first season in Seattle, I felt completely out of control. After allowing the players to stew for a while - not to mention battling my own thoughts - I emerged from the stadium and boarded the bus which would take us to the airport. I spoke not a word, Jide caught on and followed suit, and the journey passed by in stoney silence. The message I wished to convey to my players was a simple one - improve, or else.
  5. The following week we didn’t need to change anything, as another round of criss-crossing the United States saw us pick up maximum points without having to break too much of a sweat. Columbus were swatted aside inside the opening 15 minutes thanks to quick goals from Valdez and Sibandze on the road, while a few days later the Red Bulls were sent back to New York with nothing, another goal from our Belgian international sealing a narrow but comfortable 1-0 win. That meant May arrived with my Sounders flying high atop the Western Conference and looking good to meet the owners’ target for the campaign - although there was a still a very long way to go. Clint Dempsey was now firmly embedded as part of the staff - both on matchdays and in the club office - but had not once shown any indication of getting ideas above his station - and everything looked rosy. So it continued with our opening game of the month, on our travels away to Sporting Kansas City. This time, with Rachel’s words of development racing through my mind, I made a subtle but significant tactical switch at the break with the score locked at 0-0. Whether my instructions to Cho made any real difference is not for me to say, but my substitutions 25 minutes from time certainly did. On came Cano and Reus for the tiring legs of Valdez and Bustos, and just three minutes after their introduction my replacements combined to net the only goal of the game. The former Galaxy star did well to get the byline and, with the angle too tight to produce a shot, cut the ball back to the penalty spot for our German veteran to steer beyond the goalkeeper. It was all we needed, and we chalked up another hard-fought win. Four days later, a calculated change of plan turned into sheer desperation in Toronto. Jon Shannon gave us the lead early in the second period after another goalless first half, only for Enrique Paredes to level for the hosts on the hour. Sibandze netted with almost his first touch after coming off the bench with 20 minutes to play, but again Paredes wasn’t far behind and levelled the scores going into the final quarter of an hour. With the rain pouring down on BMO Field, all three substitutions used up and the home team pushing us back, I had to do something drastic. At a break in play I called over Ollie Cosgriff to pass out instructions, and even my trusty half-back was a little surprised at what he heard. We were going to fight fire with fire - pushing up the defensive line, swapping our defensive shield for a more orthodox midfield position, and sending Sibandze up alongside Shannon and Valdez as a front three with Cho lurking behind. With the full-backs also given instructions to bomb on, it was nothing short of gung-ho. In hindsight a point in Toronto would not have been the worst result in the world, but in my mind we were the champions and so could not drop points - not if we were to win the Supporters’ Shield. As my changes took effect and the team re-aligned itself on the park, I’m sure there were one or two raised eyebrows on the TFC bench. Whatever their reaction, we got the result. With four minutes remaining, Cho received the ball from Romo in a pocket of space ahead of the Canadian defence, turned and slid a slide-rule ball through for Valdez. He managed to get the wrong side of his man and, faced with the advancing goalkeeper, simply knocked a pass square for Sibandze to tap into the unguarded net from eight yard. Job done, match won, relief understandable. Yet our deficiencies had been shown up - we were not perfect, far from it - and three days later visiting DC United proved it once again. This time there was a goal in the opening 45 minutes, Sean Parker turning home a corner kick inside the six-yard box, and it took another late attack to even salvage a point, the unfortunate Ty Bryant deflecting another corner past his own goalkeeper to earn us a share of the spoils. All of a sudden, we were wobbling. I was not best pleased
  6. Four days later, I was the toast of Seattle once again. The Timbers had been in town, our fiercest local rivals and one half of the most passionate derby in the United States. They were looking to throw a spanner in the Sounders machine, while we were looking to continue our local dominance over a club which was becoming accustomed to life in our shadow. We came out on top, and in some style. After just 36 minutes Jon Shannon had a hat-trick, sealing his treble from the penalty spot with a cheeky chip down the middle. Then, just seconds before the half-time whistle, Cho took the roof off the Amazon with a sensational chip, making the goalkeeper look stupid from 20 yards and then soaking up the adulation from the fans. The best was still to come, too. The second half was 20 minutes old when Cho saw a corner headed powerfully away by a visiting defender in a rare display of footballing competence from the Timbers. What he probably didn’t see was the subsequent shot, hit by a charging Adrian Romo from 25 yards, which was drilled hard and low and flew into the bottom corner before anyone could react. Two late consolations give the scoreline at least a modicum of respectability for our rivals, but we had absolutely crushed them and they knew it. Although MLS remained lacking in coverage in the nation’s media - particularly in Seattle, where the Seahawks will always be top billing - the derby win generated a fair amount of positive attention. The title win had in many ways legitimised the Sounders as a club, and the fact that we were once again looking like one of the strongest sides in the US made us good material for the locals. The players knew it, and the buzz around the training ground was a good one. Or perhaps it was an arrogant one. Four days after our demolition of Portland, we made the long trip south to Houston and picked up a 2-0 win over the Dynamo, two second-half goals earning us the three points. I returned home more than happy with the day’s work, but Rachel was a little concerned by my attitude. “I watched the game tonight Owain, what did you think?” “I thought it took a long time coming, but with the quality we’ve got we were always likely to get the job done. Thank you for watching darling, I really appreciate that.” My peck on the cheek did not distract her from her point. “I want to see you do well my love, of course I watched it. I just don’t think your team actually played that well.” “You don’t?” “Not really, no. I saw Houston have twice as many shots and more of the ball. I saw one goal on a ricochet and the second a late counter, but nothing that said ‘champions’ to me. It looked a bit complacent to be honest.” “I don’t know about complacent - I mean, the guys were expecting to win, but I don’t think they put any less effort in.” “Well, I’m no football manager but I’ve always found if you go in expecting to succeed, you find it a lot harder to dig deep. Did you think about changing the system at any point when it was still 0-0.” “Not really, it’s only ever personnel these days.” “Why?” “Because... OK I see your point - just because something worked once doesn’t mean it always will. I’ll be careful darling.” “I’m glad you understand.” This time it was Rachel’s turn for the briefest of kisses. I couldn’t resist the last word, however - even if it was met with a sigh. “I’m willing to change the plan if it doesn’t work. You’ve got to admit though, so far it’s been a pretty good plan."
  7. Love this, thanks for the namedrop! Great performance against the Aussies, even if you couldn't get the point you deserved - all looking good for Kyrgyzstan at the moment...
  8. With board’s expectations increasing and my Sounders off to a good start on the field, we had to keep it going. Following my Asian success with Adelaide, I had half an eye on the Champions League - meaning I needed my best players fit and healthy for an assault on several fronts - but we could not afford to let the bread and butter of MLS slip away. If we were overhauled by our rivals, I could well be out of a job. April 2nd was the date of our next encounter, and another Cascadia Cup game, this time at home to the Whitecaps. During my time in Seattle we have played out one or two goal-filled games with our rivals from across the border, and with a packed Amazon Arena waiting expectantly, we needed to keep our flying start on track. Vancouver kicked off in a 5-3-2 formation, perhaps more concerned with keeping us out than troubling the scorers themselves, but whatever their defensive shape they could do nothing about the opening goal. We had been playing a mere eight minutes when Homero Cano let fly from 25 yards, and his rocket of a shot found the top corner of the net to put us in the ascendancy. From that point we were comfortable, and even more so 10 minutes later when Cacau tapped home a rebound to double our advantage. The only black mark on the performance was a late injury to Matt Lawton which meant we finished with only 10 men, but even his absence did not stop us adding to our tally - first Cano doubled his tally with a cool finish before an ill-advised intervention from Fernando Martinez took the ball past his own goalkeeper to complete the 4-0 hammering. Next up were Philadelphia and their ever-dangerous Union side. This time we did not have things all our own way, and a goal for each team within 30 seconds of each other - Oscar Trejo replying to Cano’s opener within the minute - sent us in level at the break and with neither team laying claim to superiority. In the second half however, we struggled. Passes that would usually find their intended recipient drifted past, the midfield became something akin to trench warfare, and none of our attacking players could really get their foot on the ball. Santiago proved increasingly important between our posts, and 1-1 looked like the best we could hope for. We were wrong. One long punt from the goalkeeper sailed over the heads of the entire Union team, their defenders caught ball-watching as Jon Shannon collected the clearance a full 10 yards behind the line. A man of his ability does not pass up opportunities like that, and he calmly put us 2-1 in front with just 15 minutes to play. Of course, Philadelphia took just four minutes to reply, Trejo grabbing himself a brace, and we were forced to settle for the point we already had. It was disappointing, but in truth it was likely to be one of our more difficult trips of the domestic season. Clint Dempsey, travelling with the squad in order to do some close-quarters scouting and see if there were any deals to be struck with the Union front office, seemed to think we’d played well, and he should know.
  9. “Thanks you for coming Owain, and sorry we had to cancel last month - I hope you understand.” Adrian Haneuer opened what would have been our pre-season meeting had a Nordstrom family emergency not intervened, but the quietest member of my employing committee assured everyone that everything was all well in his household, and that we were OK to proceed. “I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but it goes without saying that we’re very happy and very grateful for the success you’ve broke to our club, Owain. To win the double last season was not expected, and a joy to be part of. “You’ve started this year very well - I’ve heard the players learned their lesson after the Salt Lake game - and we wanted to assure you that we aren’t expecting you to win everything again this time round. “That said, we do have the biggest wage budget in the country, and we do expect to see a return on that. We’re aware that play-offs are unpredictable, but we’d expect to see us in contention for the Supporters’ Shield at the end of the season. Does that seem reasonable?” It was a big step up from vague hopes of the play-offs, but I couldn’t argue. Anything less would be a step backwards. “It does Adrian, yes - and I believe we’re capable of it with the squad I have. I know it’s some way off, but what are you expecting from the Champions League campaign?” “A good questions, and to be honest we’re unsure as a lot depends on the group. As a guideline, we’d be looking for you to reach the knockout rounds, and we’ll go from there. “Paul, do you have anything to add?” “Yes, thank you Adrian. Owain, you and Clint have brought a lot of money into the club over the winter, do you intend to spend any of it?” “I’d say at the moment that’s unlikely Paul, and if we did it would not be a significant amount. I’d very happy with our free signings, our squad is already one capable of competing at the top of the league, and I feel we’ve done well in the drafts. Clint and I are agreed that, unless someone special becomes available, we’re finished for the season at this stage.” “Thank you. Erik?” Nordstrom simply shook his head. “Well Owain,” said Adrian as he took control once more, “unless you have any questions, that’s all from us.” “There is something, actually, if you don’t mind?” “Go ahead.” “Regarding Clint - so far he seems very good at his job, very easy to work with, and obviously he scores well with the fans. It’s just unusual to have such a high-profile figure in the front office, and…” “Owain, I suspected you’d have concerns. Let me assure you, there are no plans to replace you with Clint Dempsey. He is a highly motivated individual, and I know for a fact he is working through his coaching badges as well as carrying out his duties. However, we are very happy with our current manager, and unless that changes then there is no question of installing Clint in your place. Of course, you’ll know if ever we’re unhappy.” “Thank you Adrian - I don’t want to seem suspicious, but you have to agree it is unusual.” “It is, and I understand your concerns. I hope we’ve been able to relieve them?” “Yes, thank you."
  10. Our second game also suggested that we were not at our free-flowing best - a scrappy, undeserved 1-0 win at home to Montreal courtesy of a Jon Shannon header - but the most important facts were the points on the board, and so travelling to Salt City Lake to take on Real, neither I nor Jide were too concerned with our relative lack of goals. By the end of those 90 minutes, we still had no reason to be concerned. Inside the opening quarter hour Cho found the net for the second time in three games, while in the second half Shannon grabbed his second of the season and Josh Lisi, standing in for the injured Hunter Robertson, powered home a header from a free-kick for our third. However, our young defender’s goal was not only necessary, but the unlikely culmination of a comeback from two goals down as our work at the other end of the pitch proved less than perfect. Five minutes before the interval we switched off to allow Victor Gonzalez the space to turn and fire home, and two minutes after it Jake Downing beat two men before slotting under Santiago. That wasn’t all however, and a terrible 15 minutes finished with Gonzalez seizing on a terrible miscommunication for the hosts’ third. Romo left a bouncing ball for Perez, who was waiting for his goalkeeper, allowing the Salt Lake striker the freedom of the penalty area to control, set himself and slide a shot inside the far post. It was embarrassing, there was no other word for it. On this occasion, our attacking prowess meant that we escaped from Utah with a point under our belts, but our calamitous defensive work meant double drills in training the following week - drills which made me and Jide unpopular men indeed. Still, the lessons needed to be learned, and my men would not want to switch off again knowing the intensity of the training we could unleash on them. In the short-term, they were lessons that were taken on board, as our first Cascadia Cup clash of the season saw us welcome Vancouver to the Amazon Arena. A competition record 63,912 fans packed into our stadium to watch their all-conquering heroes, and they were rewarded not only with a clean sheet - something the defence was congratulated on pointedly after the game - but with three goals of the highest quality. First, Christian Bustos got his first for the club with a curling effort from the edge of the area after Cho’s free-kick clattered off the wall to his feet. Then, right on the hour mark, our Korean international produced a fine first-time finish to turn Lawton’s cross beyond the goalkeeper on the volley, and finally Shannon joined his team-mate on three goals in four games with a towering header at the back post which left the scrambling stopper with no chance. This time, three goals were more than enough. We saw out March, and with it the opening month of the season, with a return visit to LA and a drab goalless draw notable only for Cho’s last-minute free-kick smashing off the crossbar, and a trip to Portland which saw former Sounder Marco Bridges do nothing to endear himself to his new side, gifting Cho possession for him to open the scoring early on, and then conceding the injury-time set-piece which substitute Cacau drove home to make it 2-0. As April arrived, we had four wins and two draws from our six outings, with the only goals conceded being the three in our horror-show at Real Salt Lake, and our points tally placing us atop the Western Conference at an early stage. So far, so good
  11. Rachel’s academic success meant she would have plenty more decisions to make in the near future - at 44 and with no ties binding her to a particular job, she would no doubt be in high demand in the local business scene if that was the route she chose to go - but that was something we could treat lightly. She had already found success in Australia, first with a firm and then as her own boss, and we were hardly close to the bread line, so she had the freedom to do what she felt she would actually enjoy doing. Back with the Sounders, we wrapped up February with a perfect record of six wins from six friendlies, conceding just two goals in the process - both in an entertaining 6-2 win over local outfit Crossfire - and with the new players integrated into the squad, we were ready for the start of the new MLS season. We’d kick things off in LA against the Galaxy, and if we could recall the performance that saw us put five past them on my Sounders debut, I’d be a happy man. Before then, we welcomed two more men into the club thanks to Clint’s efforts on the free market. Waivers once again proved a happy hunting ground for us, as first we convinced defensive midfielder and twice-capped US international Josh Edwards to swap Chicago for Seattle, and then picked up goalkeeper Francisco Santiago from FC Dallas. He rivalled Tierney in his skillset, and so when last season’s starter went down injured just three days before the season opener, he was ready and raring to go. With the arrival of Santiago, combined with the presence of Tierney and young prospects Sassano and Short, there was no longer any room in the side for Philip Johnstone, who saw the writing on the wall and asked, just days before the squad confirmation date, whether we’d be happy to cancel his contract. As he’d asked so nicely - and we no longer required his services - I was happy to oblige, and a few days later he wound up signing with the New York Cosmos. Without being harsh, they were more his level, and I wished him every success with his new side. For those of us who remained, however, we had the small matter of the opening game of the 2025 MLS season to contend with, and the beginning of our title defence to boot. The Galaxy were now the second-highest earners in the league - our signing of Cho had pushed us past them to the top of the payroll league - but had endured a tough 12 months and needed to get back into the play-offs to restore their fans’ faith in the side. In fairness to the California club, they pushed us hard for the opening half hour, but once it became apparent that Santiago was not willing to spoil his clean sheet on debut, they created little else in the way of chances. Our new-look line-up - with debuts for Cho, Bustos and Edwards as well as our goalkeeper - struggled to get going, but once we clicked, we were never going to let the Galaxy take the three points. It took 41 minutes for us to get the breakthrough, and the goal that earned it won a round of applause from Cacau on the bench. Once upon a time our Brazilian would have been first choice for set-pieces, but with Cho and Bustos starting he had to be content with a seat among the replacements, and could only watch as our Korean debutant sent a curling, dipping effort beyond the goalkeeper’s reach to put us 1-0 up going into the break. This time, we were not quite fluent enough to inflict a hammering on our opening-day opponents, and so the scoreline remained deceptively close for the remainder of the game. By the time the final whistle blew, we had recorded more almost 70% of possession, limiting our hosts to just three shots on goal - only one of which required Santiago to make a save - and grabbing a second for good measure, Cho’s corner turned past his own goalkeeper by the unfortunate Carlos Canas five minutes from time. We had our win, our title defence was up and running, and regular service was resumed
  12. “Well darling, what’s the news?” I had been out of town watching my Sounders cruise to a comfortable 4-0 win over Puget Sound Gunners in the third of our six pre-season warm-ups, but had kept one eye on my phone throughout the trip. Rachel’s MBA results had been due at noon, and I still hadn’t heard anything by the time we boarded the bus back at 6pm. I couldn’t wait any longer. “I passed it Owain, I passed it! I was going to wait until you got home, but I passed it! I’m so relieved.” I couldn’t help but break into a broad smile. In my mind there had been very little doubt that my wife would take to her chosen course in the same way she had taken to the business world - with resounding success - but she was not the most confident in her abilities, and this would give her a much-deserved boost in that regard. “Congratulations darling, that’s great news - I always knew you’d breeze through. When do you graduate?” “At the end of April - with a distinction, no less.” I could hear Rachel beaming down the line, and the confidence in her voice. She had not only passed, but with flying colours, and would be deservedly honoured as such. “That’s brilliant, I’m so proud of you. Have you made any plans to celebrate tonight?” “Thank you darling. I’m going out for a meal with a couple of the other older students in town soon, so there might just be a babysitter when you get back.” “OK, that’s fine. Tell you what, make sure you keep tomorrow clear…” “I’m finished now, what would I be doing?” “I don’t know what you get up to in your spare time, do I? Just keep it clear, I’ll give Jide the training session for tomorrow and we’ll go enjoy ourselves for the day. It’s not every day your wife aces an MBA you know, I don’t want to miss out!” “Well you did marry a genius after all. OK, I’ll clear my incredibly busy schedule for tomorrow, and you can treat me to lunch. How does that sound?” “It sounds perfect, and you have a good time tonight darling. Well done again, I love you.
  13. Thanks Gio, the things that make us think eh? I'd like to imagine Owain having similar things written about him with the title in the bag, but we'll see! -- For the next week, with the players still away on their break, every hour in the office was spent with Clint discussing player movements. Speaking to the man, you might be forgiven for assuming he was the classic all-American ‘jock’ type - his Texan drawl not doing him any favours on that front. However, I couldn’t help but be impressed by his knowledge - he had clearly worked hard to make sure he earned the new role, even though his standing with the fans meant he could have walked into any role in the club other than mine. He was a lot louder than Chris - which was not a difficult battle to win - but his opinions seemed just as informed. In many respects, they matched up well with my own. Within that first week, the club brought in just short of $20 million with the departure of just three players, the most surprising sale being that of MLS Cup final hero Nicolas Guathier. He had one year left on his contract, and was demanding a Designated Player deal to extend it any further. With Cosgriff and Salcedo playing the position well and other targets lined up, an eight-figure bid from AZ Alkmaar was easy enough to accept, and Gauthier crossed the Atlantic for the second time in a year with our blessings and gratitude. He considered it a step up, we were grateful of the fee - everybody won. Also winging their way to European shores, this time as a pair, were fringe attacking midfielder London Leonard and Javier Cardenas. Both had featured heavily in rotation during my first season in Seattle, but with Cacau, Reus, Sibandze and now especially Cho ahead of them in the pecking order, it was hard to see a reason to turn down the advances of their suitors. Surprisingly, it was Greece which eventually took their fancy - both had offers from the Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland, and signed for PAOK in a double deal which netted us a little shy of $7 million. With those three sales, we had some space both in the squad and in the salary cap - once we had filed the papers with the league to move some of our swelling transfer allocation into our wage bull. That meant that the following week we took advantage of our scouts’ good work, snapping up Atlante’s Mexican holding man Adrian Romo for free at the end of his contract, and then agreeing a Young Designated Player - cheap at just $15,000 per week - with highly-promising River Plate youngster Christian Bustos. At 23 years old he felt it was time to spread his wings and get out of Argentina, and we felt his creative talents would make him the perfect replacement for the ageing legs of Marco Reus behind the strikers. Having made his mind up to leave his old club, he was another who cost us absolutely nothing, and so we retained plenty of room to manoeuvre. With the new season starting in March and January already at an end, we didn’t have a huge amount of time if we wanted to make sweeping changes to the squad, but as defending champions and with a well-balanced line-up already, I did not expect too many more changes in the near future. We had six friendlies lined up through February - all against local lower-league outfits - and Clint’s activity levels were beginning to level out at something a little more sustainable. We seemed well set, and in good time too
  14. Second highest rating in the squad last season and the goal that gets us up and running in the Premier - turns out I'm not too bad at this football malarkey! Looking forward to seeing FMS motoring up the leagues Mark...
  15. “Owain, I’d like you to say hello to the Seattle Sounders’ new Technical Director - I’m sure the two of you will make a great team. Owain, allow me to introduce Clint Dempsey.” Yes, that Clint Dempsey. The most-capped player in the history of United States football, a man with 70 international goals and just over 150 caps, the first American to score a Premier League hat-trick and in three separate World Cups, and a club legend here in Seattle, whose jerseys could still be bought in the club shop. That Clint Dempsey, it turned out, had not spent his time since retirement earning a quick buck as a pundit or taking his coaching badges, but learning the front office game and training to be the next Billy Beane. “Hi there Owain, pleasure to meet you,” he said, shaking me firmly by the hand. Dempsey retained a powerful physical presence and personal charisma, and my first thought was whether or not he’d be gunning for my job a little sooner than I would like. “You too Clint, it’s an honour. I’m looking forward to working with you.” The big Texan hesitated before replying, and when he did respond, successfully alleviated all my fears in one fell swoop. “Thanks Owain. I’ve spoken to Chris a couple of times before signing anything, and he spoke very highly of you. If I can do the job half as well as he did, I’ll be a happy man.” “Well if Chris thinks you’re up to the job, you’re up to the job - I’ll try not to compare the two of you, but we’ll miss him. It says a lot that you spoke to him first.” Haneuer seemed to sense the nervous tension in the conversation and rapidly excused himself from it, leaving me and my new colleague alone in the office to discuss business for the first time. “By the way Owain, the way you’ve got this team going is amazing, and I don’t want to stop that - you’re the boss. On the other hand, if you want ideas, I’ve got ‘em.” “Well Clint, let’s hear ‘em. Chris had my ear whenever he wanted it, and it’s yours now. I assume you’ve been doing a bit of homework before today?” “Right.” “So who are we moving on, and who’s out there for us?