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Everything you need to be ready for the 2018 Sounders season

We look back on the offseason and the state of the roster.

Kim Kee-Hee was acquired late in the 2018 offseason.
Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

One thing about making it to the championship match: The offseason goes by in a flash. After the 2016 season, the Seattle Sounders and their fans reveled in the glory of their first MLS Cup victory, and roster concerns were few and far between. After all, the squad that rose from the basement of the West to become champions probably didn’t need much improving, right?

Fast-forward to today, on the brink of a new campaign after another rocky regular season and another mostly-excellent performance in the playoffs, but this time with no trophy to show for it. Add to that departing players and an aging core with injury concerns, and you had a 2017/2018 offseason that did call for some changes and reinforcements.

In case you haven’t been following every moment of the Sounders’ brief break from MLS play, let’s refresh our memories of the moves GM and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey has (and hasn’t) made, and look ahead to where Seattle’s lineup stands as they prepare a warm CenturyLink Field welcome for newcomers LAFC.

Departures

Joevin Jones - Transferred to 2.Bundesliga

This came as no surprise, as the deal was done before the season ended, but Joevin Jones departed for Germany’s SV Darmstadt 98 at the conclusion of the 2017 season. The talented left back thanked his teammates and fans on Instagram. This is probably the most significant loss, as he was the only MLS Cup starter to depart, taking his 11 assists along with him.

Brad Evans - Free agent, signed with Sporting Kansas City

Brad Evans fought hard for the limited free agency MLS veterans are allowed now, and he took his opportunity to make a move he felt would be better for his career. Out of contract, Evans trained with Sporting KC, who reportedly offered a more patient timeline in their expectations for Evans’ fitness than did the Sounders.

Oniel Fisher - Traded to DC United

With Kelvin Leerdam being the clear starter at right back, Oniel Fisher wasn’t looking at a lot of guaranteed playing time in his fourth season. He was moved to DC United for $50,000 in General Allocation Money.

Tyler Miller - Chosen by LAFC in expansion draft

With their first pick of the expansion draft, LAFC snagged Sounders backup goalkeeper Tyler Miller. Miller only made three starts in his Sounders career, but one of them was a shutout in the first leg of the Western Conference finals.

Calum Mallace - Option declined

On December 12th, the Sounders exercised contract options for 11 players, but Calum Mallace was the odd man out. Mallace entered the re-entry draft and was picked up by LAFC. Not exactly a huge loss, as he never played a single minute after being acquired in a deadline day trade.

Aaron Kovar - Loaned to LAFC

For those of you keeping count, that’s a third 2017 Sounders player who will be wearing an LAFC jersey this year, although Aaron Kovar, who had struggled for playing time in Seattle, will not be eligible to play against the Sounders, per league rules.

Rumors

As always, there were some rumors of players looking to leave the Sounders and others about targets for DP and Targeted Allocation Money contracts coming in. It has to be said, though, that this offseason was remarkably quiet, with few leaks forthcoming about the Sounders’ player searches.

Nicolas Lodeiro

The star midfielder made some comments in South American media that made it sound as if he were open to returning to Boca Juniors, his former club. There was nothing to worry about. That’s not to say Nico may want to move back at some point, but he seems happy in Seattle for now.

Gonzalo Pineda

Now on the coaching staff, Pineda was the subject of a rumor that he was seeking a move to U.N.A.M. Pumas in Liga MX. Pineda took to Twitter to deliver a flat denial with a side of snark.

Osvaldo Alonso

Not a rumor, exactly, but Lagerwey left El Corazon off the protected list for the MLS Expansion Draft, and the passionate midfielder was clearly not pleased. There was concern that Lagerwey saw Ozzie as expendable, but he made it clear the move was a “calculated risk.”

Linked to the Sounders

There weren’t many rumblings of big signings this year, but a few names popped up in the last few months.

Draft

The Sounders kept the 2018 MLS SuperDraft low-drama, making the unsurprising move for Cristian’s little brother Alex Roldan, and nabbing defender prospects in later rounds.

First Round, MF Alex Roldan

Alex is not so different of a player from his older brother, though he is a bit of a different style of midfielder who can also play right back. He has since earned a First Team contract.

Second Round, CB Markus Fjortøft

The second round saw the Sounders pick up a 6-foot-5-inch Norwegian centerback out of Duke University.

Third Round, RB Chris Bared

For their final pick, Seattle went for right back depth with international experience. Chris Bared played in the U17 and U20 World Cups with Panama.

Additions

Waylon Francis

Early in the offseason, the club made a trade with Columbus Crew SC for veteran outside back Waylon Francis. Francis was an MLS All-Star in 2015, and has international experience with the Costa Rican national team.

Magnus Wolff Eikrem

In a move that went below everyone’s radar, the Sounders made a TAM signing in Norwegian midfielder Wolff. A smooth and creative passer, he has also already shown off his skills at set piece delivery and precise finishing in CCL play. He will be a valuable attacking option to start or sub on for a different look.

Lamar Neagle

Sure, he was on the team in 2017. Still, Neagle was a free agent and out of contract, and the Sounders re-signed him (for the fifth time).

Calle Brown

The former Houston Dynamo goalkeeper officially joined the Sounders on the same day as Lamar Neagle. His experience is mostly limited to USL minutes.

Jordan McCrary

McCrary was a trialist in preseason camp, and formerly played in the USL for Toronto FC II. He was signed to the First Team and has already been called into action after Kelvin Leerdam suffered an injury.

Kim Kee-Hee

Another surprise TAM signing came at the end of February, as the Sounders added 28-year-old South Korean centerback Kim from Shanghai Shenua. Yes, that’s Obafemi Martins’ team, and he advised Kim on the move. Kim hopes to use his play in MLS to improve his chances at making his nation’s World Cup squad.

State of the roster

Despite a few key departures, the Sounders return an impressive core of experienced and skilled players, including Stefan Frei, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Osvaldo Alonso and Clint Dempsey. Along with several younger stars and rotational players, the Sounders were already looking good on paper. With their offseason moves, Seattle got deeper and more flexible, using TAM to sign potential difference makers.

Unfortunately, all that depth and potential will be tested right away, because the Sounders are starting the season with a raft of injuries. Jordan Morris suffered a torn ACL in the first leg of Seattle’s CONCACAF Champions League matchup with Santa Tecla. Lagerwey has made it clear: Morris is unlikely to play again in 2018. Until the team can sign a short- or long-term replacement, this leaves the Sounders down a star player and very thin at forward. Keep your eye out for the 4-6-0 formation.

Alonso remains out with a quadriceps injury, and the Sounders have not been forthcoming with any information, although Alonso targeted late March for a return to the field. Ozzie has appeared only once since September 27. Defender Kelvin Leerdam has also not been able to return to action after suffering an injury in training in mid-February.

Despite all that, the Sounders were able to advance past Santa Tecla into the quarterfinals of the CCL by winning emphatically thanks to four goals at home. The team looks ready to compete with the best of the Western Conference, especially if Alonso can make a full recovery. Clearly, the biggest question mark at this point is how to replace Jordan Morris’s production. He was looking sharp and fast before his injury; to be considered among the favorites in the West, the Sounders will need as potent a weapon in front as Morris looked like he’d be in 2018.

How they’ll look when completely healthy

Injuries and international absences being what they are, it’s entirely possible the Sounders will never play with an “ideal” starting XI, but this is our best guess as to how it would look if they ever have the opportunity:

GK: Stefan Frei (he’ll start all 34 games if he stays healthy)
LB: Nouhou (Waylon Francis will likely challenge for time)
CB: Chad Marshall (Still one of the league’s best at 33)
CB: Roman Torres (Will likely be spelled by Kim Kee-Hee)
RB: Kelvin Leerdam (Expect him to start every game he’s healthy)
DM: Cristian Roldan (Already one of the league’s best at 22)
DM: Osvaldo Alonso (Out until at least late March; expect Gustav Svensson to start here often)
LM: Victor Rodriguez (Magnus Wolff Eikrem may end up with just as many starts)
CM: Clint Dempsey (Another spot Wolff will start plenty)
RM: Nicolas Lodeiro (Will start whenever healthy)
FW: Will Bruin (At least until they sign another Designated Player or TAM striker)

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