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Seattle Sounders v. Atlanta United, Carolina Challenge Cup: Three Questions

At 4:30 PM on Feb. 22 Seattle faces expansion side AUFC for the first time. On March 31 they play for real.

In 2017 two new teams enter MLS. The Carolina Challenge Cup gives the Seattle Sounders, and us, an opportunity for a dress rehearsal against Atlanta United FC. Atlanta and Seattle face in the CCC on Wednesday night and then just over a month later they play for real. Being new we are conducting a preseason edition of Three Questions.

Rob, from Dirty South Soccer, answers Three Questions about AUFC.

SaH: Atlanta looks to be the next team to explosively launch on the scene, like the Fire and Sounders did, why did Arthur Blank throw so many resources into soccer?

DSS: That's a good question that I'm not sure anyone knows the answer to at the most basic form. Arthur Blank has committed himself to building up and improving the city of Atlanta as much as he can. Every venture he invests in, he does so with 100 percent commitment. So, it's no surprise that everything Atlanta United have done -- from building an academy a year from their first match to building a $60 million training facility -- has been first-class so far. Why he chose soccer? That's a question no one but him knows the answer to and one we hope to find out in the coming days, months, or years.

SaH: Is the 18 basically settled? Several depth players already played the Sounders but with Charleston.

DSS: We have a decent idea of what the starting lineup will look like, I can safely say. After that it gets a little murky. The reserve spots are up for grabs. Common sense tells us that MLS veterans like Jacob Peterson and Jeff Larentowicz will be stalwarts as role players for the team. But there are still several bench spots up for grabs in the final two preseason matches. Young players like Andrew Carleton and Brandon Vazquez could still earn first-team roles with solid performances against the Sounders and Battery.

The club's depth is surprisingly good for a first-year team. While not loaded with a ton of skill players, the role-player depth chart is strong and is yet to be fully decided on by Tata Martino and his staff.

SaH: What player should Sounders fans pay close attention to in the preseason game?

DSS: Miguel Almiron, the 23-year-old DP who wears No. 10. While not a prototypical No. 10, he's very much a creative force and will be the team's engine. Much like your own Nico Lodeiro, he can float all around the attacking setup and become a nuisance for opposing teams. He's skillful, pacey, and creative. However his size is a little worrisome in a rough and tumble league like MLS.

We did not project lineups for a preseason game.

DSS: How have the defending champions looked in preseason so far? Any signs of post-celebration rust?

SaH: It's not rust per se, but the first preseason when Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris are playing together. It's easy to forget that the Seattle Sounders won the MLS Cup without Clint. They basically had one DP on the roster since Nelson Haedo Valdez performed more like a high cap, non-scoring forward for the year-and-a-half he was here. Add in a lack of Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans and Harry Shipp and the Sounders are essentially playing their B squad to start most preseason games. Their defense is still stellar, but the offense is lagging, for obvious reasons.

DSS: With Tyrone Mears departing, what does the club's new backline look like and how has it performed so far?

SaH: The backline, when healthy, will be Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres and Brad Evans. But in preseason that right back spot has been Oniel Fisher or trialists like Darrius Barnes. That's led most teams to attack from the Seattle right. It forces Torres wider. That's perfectly OK. Seattle's fullbacks are going to get forward quite a bit. They'll drop Alonso or Cristian Roldan deep during run-of-play while Marshall and Torres split out. Even with the makeshift defense the Sounders have given up just a goal a game in preseason. All of that's been done with their backup keeper since Stefan Frei got injured during US National Team Camp.

DSS: Will Clint Dempsey be ready for the season and will he ever get back to his old self after being diagnosed with arrhythmia?

SaH: Clint is back. He looks great. He's still learning to trust the bench midfielders so is dropping too far into his own third, but he is back. Everything about his recovery and fitness curve is going to plan. The team is quite cautious with his playing time. Doctors influence every decision about how long he goes in each game. That may soften a bit in the regular season, but in preseason he has times when he must stop. He should got about 75 minutes in his final game of the preseason, but we don't know if that's against Atlanta or Columbus.

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