The Runner Sports

MLS 20 In 20: Seattle Sounders

The MLS 20 In 20 series rolls on today with a look at four-time U.S. Open Cup winners, Seattle Sounders.  Seattle comes off a largely disappointing 2015 campaign in which they tumbled out of the Open Cup in the fourth round, and once again failed to live up to the hype in getting knocked out in the MLS Cup conference semi-finals.  Much of the blame can rest on injuries as nearly every major player missed time at some point in the season.  Like D.C. United, we look at Seattle largely because they begin their season next week with a huge CONCACAF Champions League matchup with Mexican side Club America, one of the historically powerful teams in both CONCACAF and Liga MX.  For an early preview, you can find a Sounders preseason match against L.A. tonight here.

Key Additions:

M Jordan Schweitzer (Last Club: Homegrown)

D Joevin Jones (LC: Chicago)

M Michael Farfan (LC: D.C. United)

F Jordan Morris (LC: Homegrown)

Seattle took an interesting tactic in building their roster this offseason, meaning that they didn’t go outside the league for big signings, rather they devoted a big chunk of change the club had to homegrown signings.  Jordan Morris was, of course, the big move as Seattle made the young USMNT and former Stanford striker the highest paid homegrown signing in league history.  Morris adds another dimension to the attack as it might be fair to say the striker has world-class speed.  He will be the perfect recipient of Clint Dempsey and Osvaldo Alonso through balls and has a chance to develop nicely at his hometown club.

Jordan Schweitzer is another homegrown signing who spent the last several years leading a very solid University of Denver soccer team.  As a holding midfielder, Schweitzer will be afforded the opportunity to learn under one of the all-time best MLS holding midfielders, Osvaldo Alonso.  Schweitzer would have been a first-round pick in the MLS draft had he made it to that point, so he is certainly a player to watch in the future and along with Morris and Cristian Roldan, form a nice young core for the Sounders moving forward.

Jones can be a dynamite left back, capable of getting into the attack and whipping in quality crosses.  According to whoscored.com, Jones averaged nearly one cross a match. Very good considering his position and how poor Chicago was last season.  He should immediately be injected into the starting eleven and if retained long-term, could be a mainstay for the Sounders franchise.

Micheal Farfan is nothing more than a depth add with significant MLS experience.  As Seattle has a busy schedule, the addition of Farfan to the lineup won’t result in a huge hole when players leave.

Key Subtractions:

Obafemi Martins?

F Chad Barrett

D Leonardo Gonzalez

GK Troy Perkins

M Gonzalo Pineda

M Lamar Neagle

M Marco Pappa

If reports are indeed true, Obafemi Martins, the second leading scorer in Sounders history, will be another casualty of the Chinese invasion.  In recent weeks, the Chinese Super League has poached a number of high-priced players from Europe and the movement has reached American soil with the news of Martins on the move.  Of course, Seattle will receive a transfer fee for a player still under contract, but how will they replace the linchpin of the attack?  Last season, Seattle was 11-1-3 when Martins scored or assisted and 4-12-3 in those matches in which he didn’t.  I’ll let those splits speak for themselves.

The remaining players that have been let go or traded by Seattle were all deemed surplus type players who were in most cases taking up too much of the salary cap.  All of these players are on the decline in their career, yet some can and will still contribute to their various clubs this season.  The Sounders felt that they were no longer needed based on the moves made this offseason, last offseason and during the summer.  The one player that could haunt Seattle is Chad Barrett who while not spectacular can do a decent job as a striker.  With the likely absence of Morris and Dempsey on international duty this summer, Barrett would have been a nice depth piece.

2016 Storylines:

Can Seattle finally break through and win the Cup?

As previously mention, Seattle has been a leading club in MLS since coming into the league as an expansion side.  They have racked up trophies like few others, winning the four Open Cups and a Supporters Shield, and always impressing in the regular season.  When it comes to the playoffs, Seattle is a different story.  In the seven years, Seattle has been in MLS, they have lost in the conference semi-finals five times and conference finals two others.  For what has to be considered a top three franchise in MLS, this is unacceptable and the leading fanbase in MLS is becoming frustrated.  Huge changes could be in store for the Sounders if the early season exits continue.

How will Seattle cope with losses to international play?

A consistent problem for MLS clubs is that the league doesn’t take a break during some international dates.  Say what you will about this policy, but the fact remains, Seattle will be hugely affected by players leaving for tournaments.  Morris might be involved in all three of the Olympics, Copa America Centenario and World Cup Qualifying this year for the USMNT.  It is unlikely he will take place in all three, but Sounders fans should certainly expect Morris to be gone for long stretches of the summer/early fall.  In addition, Dempsey, Brad Evans, Roman Torres, Joevin Jones, and Nelson Valdez could all be involved in various international competitions.  Are the Seattle Sounders deep enough to cope with losing players for a long period of time?  The Sounder II USL club allows the parent Sounders to shuttle players up and down, but will there be enough talent to remain competitive?

 

Who will play target striker, if anyone?

Martins leaves a gaping hole in the area of target striker.  Will Seattle call on another DP in Valdez to fill that role, will rookie Morris get the nod or better yet will Dempsey be playing out of position?  The early going will provide a roadmap for how manager Sigi Schmid will handle the potential problem.

 

How will Seattle do in CONCACAF Champions League?

It is well documented how poorly MLS clubs have done against Mexican clubs in the CONCACAF Champions League, so expect to see this point for every MLS club in the competition.  The upheaval of Martins leaving has come at the absolute worse time as Seattle is heading into a showdown against Club America next week.  With so many questions to answer for this Seattle team, Club America is the last opponent you would want to play.  Club America is also off to a fast start to their League MX season with only one loss in the first six matches.  MLS need to have a club win the CONCACAF Champions League to continue the momentum the league is generating.

2016: Reasonable Expectations:

Any Seattle Sounders season begins with expectations of lifting the cup, but I don’t see that as being reasonable this year.  Seattle is up against it in many ways this year, from Dempsey, Chad Marshell, Brad Evens, and Osvaldo Alonso getting older, to losses in the international breaks, to the staggering loss of Martins right before the season begins.  If Seattle could have had warning and replaced Martins to begin the season, I could have felt more comfortable picking them as my winner, but without I’m unsure.  As of today, I would project Seattle finishing much like last season, that is comfortably in the playoffs, but not in an overly impressive fashion.  Fifth place in the Western Conference and a deep run in the U.S. Open Cup.

Mainstream Sport Equivalent: Denver Broncos (only not as good)

Heading into the 2015 NFL season, the Denver Broncos were a team of high-priced veterans with a number of emerging stars.  On the defensive side of the ball, the Sounders have middle age to old stars in Chad Marshell, Jones, Evans, Torres, and Alonso.  All of these players have been established in the league and have been making a name for themselves like the Denver defense.  The Denver defense really broke out during the 2015 season and if they can remain healthy, I would expect Seattle’s defense to be among the best in MLS.

On the offensive side of the ball, Denver was led by an old, wise guiding hand in Peyton Manning with a young hotshot quarterback waiting in the wings.  There was talent all over on offense, in Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas,  yet they were missing a key contributor to spread the ball around.  Seattle has the guiding hand of Clint Dempsey (although he should be better than Manning was this year) and a young up and comer in Morris.   Nelson Valdez, Andreas Ivanschitz, and Erik Friberg are all talented players, yet Seattle, like Denver, is missing their star in attack.  2012-14 Peyton Manning regressing to his current state is the equivalent of losing Martins.

 

I hope you liked the second installment of MLS 20 In 20.  In case you missed the first preview of D.C. United, you can find it here.  Be sure to check back tomorrow for a preview of Real Salt Lake.

John Harbeck

Ohio sports and all things soccer.If you like my writing follow me @JHarbeck5 on twitter

Latest posts by John Harbeck (see all)