The next month or so will be very telling for the Seattle Sounders. As Dave point out earlier this week, the Sounders are now entering one of the most crowded fixtures in their young MLS history.
Sure, the Sounders have played a lot of games in a relatively tight frame in the past. Last year, alone, they had three separate instances in which they averaged at least one game every four days for at least 18 days. But the upcoming congestion is a little different.
Of the nine matches the Sounders are guaranteed to play over the next 32 days, eight of them will be in MLS. While you could certainly argue that throwing in CONCACAF Champions League games -- as last year's stretches did -- are physically harder because of the travel involved, the stakes are undeniably different this time around.
By the end of May, we should really know how capable this team is of contending for the Supporters' Shield. Just as importantly, we'll really know just how deep they are, which should tell us how much we can expect from this year's U.S. Open Cup and CCL. Put another way, there should be little doubt that we'll know what this team is made of.
Here are some of the key players we should know more about by the time the Sounders hit the :
Christian Sivebaek: More than any other newly signed player, he was the one who got imaginations really working. His size, speed and skill are impossible to miss. But you can definitely see he's a bit of a project when you really get a longer look at him. Hopefully, he'll continue to adjust.
Jhon Kennedy Hurtado: It's tempting to say he's already proven himself just because he's relatively healthy and was once a top centerback. But he has struggled at times and appears to be the third center back right now. If he's to regain a more permanent spot, this is the time he'll have to do it.
David Estrada: Those four goals in the first two games earned him a longer leash, but any slip-up could send him back to the bench. He doesn't need to score, necessarily, but he needs to continue to show he's capable of helping keep the offense flowing.
Eddie Johnson: Sigi Schmid has said we'll see him at his best in the middle of May. That happens to be smack dab in the middle of the Sounders' busiest schedule. The intangibles are nice, but he's going to have to score in order to prove his value.
Servando Carrasco: As much as we'd like to think Osvaldo Alonso is invincible, the reality is he's going to have to sit at some point, if for no other reason than yellow-card accumulation. Carrasco's value is clearly wrapped up in how well he can spell Alonso.
Bryan Meredith: As Kasey Keller showed us, backup goalkeepers aren't always necessary. But something tells me that Michael Gspurning's penchant for punches will lead to some kind of absence at some point.
Alex Caskey: So far, we've seen him out wide. But he was originally expected to play more of a holding midfielder in the vein of Nathan Sturgis. We know Brad Evans is going to miss some time at some point and while Caskey won't bring the same physical presence, he could provide an interesting pairing with Alonso.
Sammy Ochoa: He's a bit of a forgotten piece at this point, but he's really the only forward on the team that can be a true target. Even if he's not starting, he could still play a valuable role in helping change up the point of attack.