The most common criticism of the Sounders' offseason was that they didn't make enough moves. And it's true they didn't make many. The only new addition likely to get any kind of significant minutes (barring a lot of injuries) is new right back Tyrone Mears. Compare that to Toronto — who signed two new DPs — or Chicago — who signed three new DPs — and it looks like Seattle was jogging in place over the winter. But those two teams (and the other teams that made a bevy of moves) have something in common: they were bad last year.
|Lee Nguyen||The tricky attacking midfielder rode a breakout 2014 campaign to MVP consideration and national team minutes. Can he repeat it? Will he play?|
|José Gonçalves||Veteran presence in the central midfield will have to curtail his roaming instincts to keep it together against the Hydra.|
|Juan Agudelo||The Revs had the best attacking midfield in the league but never a convincing forward at the top. Now they hope to have found one in a one-time international who's struggled to find a team.|
We looked in depth at the leagues' offseason moves previously and the takeaway is that the big moves were concentrated among the disappointing teams. Look at the teams that made at least the MLS Cup semifinals in the 2014 postseason. We know the Sounders were quiet. The Galaxy have a pending addition of Steven Gerrard but otherwise have done nothing of note. The Red Bulls made a big addition of Sacha Kljestan, but they were forced to make additions by the departure of Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill. And the final semifinal team was our first 2015 opponent: the New England Revolution, who — like Seattle — will be relying on continuity to keep them at the top of the MLS heap.
Their most notable offseason acquisition was one Juan Agudelo, who after an extended and ultimately failed attempt to break into European soccer will now try to break into a talented and diverse attacking group that includes MVP candidate Lee Nguyen, onetime US phenom Charlie Davies, assist leader Teal Bunbury, occasional wunderkind Diego Fagundez, and Seattle's own Kelyn Rowe.
Throw in occasional attacking forays by Daigo Kobayashi and that's an impressive implementation of attacking strength in depth. Sure, you wouldn't take any one of those players over Clint Dempsey or Obafemi Martins, even given Nguyen's breakout 2014 season (which he'll have to prove he can repeat). But they can come at you in waves from multiple directions, a reality Seattle faced with devastating consequences in their 5-0 loss to the Revolution in Foxborough last season.
But the Sounders seem to have one tremendously derpy game in them every season. All I have to say is 'that Montreal game' and most Sounders supporters will know exactly what I'm talking about. So it's not necessarily evidence of a systemic weakness against the Revolution, especially played on the East coast on short rest. It will, however, serve as excellent motivation to not take a complacent approach to the season opener.
After being a few feet away on an extra time Jermaine Jones shot from winning an MLS championship and residing in an Eastern Conference weakened by realignment, the Revolution are a popular pick to top the East and challenge for the Shield. To do that they'll have to find a replacement for center back A.J. Soares, who was second on the team in outfield minutes last season but left to find his fortunes in Europe. Even with the Revs' hydra-lite offense they finished the season with a goal differential of just +5, and if the defense degrades significantly they could struggle just to keep it positive.
Expected to take over for Soares is right back Andrew Farrell. And shielding the young player during that transition should be US international Jones. But he's almost certainly out for this weekend, as is Nguyen. That gives Seattle the opportunity to take advantage of a weakened central defense — right where Martins and Dempsey like to operate.
And the critical area for the Sounders' defense will be the mirror image — the defensive central midfield that is usually Osvaldo Alonso's territory. But with Alonso out recovering from groin surgery it will be on Gonzalo Pineda and a reserve player — likely Micheal Azira — to prevent the build-up in the Revolution attack.
The Sounders will also have to keep a keen eye on the right flank. That's where Diego Fagundez exploited Yedlin's forays forward to brutal effect last season. Mears hasn't played regularly for two years, but he'll be immediately called upon to slow down the Revolution attack on the wing.
This is not a great matchup for Seattle. New England does not attack much through the air, so the aerial domination of Chad Marshall and Brad Evans is neutralized. But it's a season opener at home, and the Revolution defense is just as vulnerable. I wouldn't expect either team to be shut out, and the Sounders will have to rely on their offense to outscore the opponent, which is a challenge they rose to all last season on the way to a Supporters Shield.