It’s another season of high expectations. Whether looking at last season’s record-setting second half, or the last year, or the last season and half, the Seattle Sounders have been successful. Having Raul Ruidiaz for a full season and Jordan Morris back from injury are the indicators that the offense will be better than it’s been in years. The defense has depth, and with Cristian Roldan slipping back into a more defensive role he should cover the ground that Osvaldo Alonso tried to last year.
The expectations are truly great — 56% of staff expect the Seattle Sounders to be the best team in the West. None of the respondents see a finish worse than fourth in the West.
And many see a Supporters’ Shield win. The competition for trophies will be tight. No one is promising that Seattle will hoist a trophy in 2019, but at Sounder at Heart we think it is likely.
We’ll focus more on how the Sounders compare to the rest of MLS in another story; at this time the focus is on Seattle Sounders FC.
There is only one position with competition in it and most (64%) expect Nouhou to start the most games, but noted Nouhou kit wearer Mike Standish does not.
Brad Smith will start more games than Nouhou for two reasons:
1. Maturity – Smith has proven himself to be a professional. Despite only being on loan, he’s shown up, worked hard, understood his role, and fulfilled it to the best of his ability... When healthy. That’s the big question, though, isn’t it? Can he stay healthy? Coach Brian Schmetzer is still clearly a bit gun-shy on that front, pulling him from the San Jose preseason finale as a precautionary measure.
Meanwhile, Nouhou might become the first Sounder to tweet himself out of a starting gig. Nouhou spent the offseason sending a flurry of cringe-worthy posts, seemingly courting any team remotely linked to him. Schmetzer has a long track record (as any good coach does) of valuing commitment to the group. Nouhou will need to put his phone down and do some work to get back into the 11 over Smith.
2. Goals – if the left back spot comes down to valuing offense over defense, it seems that Smith has the edge there, as he’s a bit more polished in the attack than the still-developing Nouhou. The gap is closing fast, but for now, Schmetzer’s preference is clear.
Eighty percent project Raul Ruidiaz to be the SaH Offensive Player of the Year. Nicolas Lodeiro was the next most popular, with 16% of the vote. Editor Brett Hightower makes the case for Nico to repeat.
Raul may be the sparkly bejeweled crown on the head of the Sounders offense, but Nico is still the king of the realm. His vision and passing remain the most vital component of the team. Without him there is no weekly feast of goals.
Staffers project a contest between two former SaH Defensive Players of the Year — Kim Kee-hee (10) and Stefan Frei (6). Let’s check with Mark Kastner.
The Sounders had one of the best defenses in MLS last season, especially down the stretch. Kim spent most of the year adapting to a new league and a new language. After having a year to settle in, I fully expect him to reach the peak of his potential as the best defender on the league’s best defense in 2019.
The predictions for Young Player of the Year (U23) started before Danny Leyva’s preseason breakout. Former winner Nouhou keeps getting votes, but the staff here sees Handwalla Bwana as the most likely to win, with 13 of 25 predicting his ascendancy. Spenser Davis is one of the many who predict a breakout performance.
Bwana showed immense promise in his rookie season with the Sounders, and all signs point to improved sophomore year in Seattle. His combination of creativity and technique is incredible for such a young player, and with enough minutes I think he’ll produce lots of highlight reel material in 2019.
We also predicted how many goals Jordan Morris will score in all competitions. That ranged from 4 goals to 20 with an average of 11.4 and a mode of 12. Two staffers predicted 20 goals, one of whom was Bread.
The only full season we’ve seen of Jordan Morris was his rookie year, at 14 goals in all competitions. That version of Jordan Morris was timid at times and had a lot to prove, which visibly weighed on him and his production. When Jordan looked most comfortable in 2016, he was playing out wide, which is what we’ll see again in 2019.
Aside from position, 2019 Jordan Morris is much more confident, somehow even faster, and it seems like people have counted him out, which gives Jordan impetus to fight harder. He has to regain his spot with the men’s national team, and I wouldn’t expect him to squander his first season back after two down years. I predict 20 goals in all competitions for Jordan Morris in 2019, and I believe he can do even better.