To be entirely honest, there hasn’t been a whole lot that we’ve learned about the Seattle Sounders during the preseason. The team that takes the field on Saturday for the season opener against FC Cincinnati will look an awful like the one that finished last season on a 15-2-2 run, with the main exceptions being the absence of Osvaldo Alonso and the presence of Jordan Morris.
As such, this preseason was largely seen more as an exercise of getting into shape and avoiding injury. There just weren’t a lot of jobs to be won and lost.
That said, it wasn’t entirely without consequence. Here are the players who most improved their stock during the preseason:
Even as someone who pays close attention to the whole organization, I’m not sure I could have picked Danny Leyva out of a lineup when training camp opened. Now, it looks like the 15-year-old could become the youngest-ever player signed to the Sounders First Team. That might not come right away, but considering he’s two years younger than the previous youngest Homegrown Player signing — the Sounders signed Victor Mansaray at 17 in 2014 — it seems like a pretty safe bet. Leyva just finished a preseason in which he was among the team leaders in minutes played — until the Earthquakes game — and drew universal plaudits for his play, maturity and potential. That’s pretty good.
In a sense, Morris simply met expectations. I think most people thought he’d return at something pretty close to the player that last played consistent minutes nearly a year-and-a-half ago. But that doesn’t mean it was a given. Morris’ speed is obviously still there, which was apparent from his first preseason game, but it also looks like he may have added a few elements to his game. Never a great passer, Morris has looked more than capable of setting up teammates with the assist to Victor Rodriguez on Saturday being the best example. The scoring boots haven’t quite returned, but after a strong preseason I don’t think anyone will be surprised when they do.
Speaking of Rodriguez, the Spaniard looks ready to pick up where he left off last year, which is definitely saying something. Rodriguez’s production has been remarkably consistent whenever he’s played — since joining the Sounders, he’s never gone more than three consecutive starts without a goal or assist — and his goals+assists per 90 is a borderline elite .75 in MLS. The trick has always been staying healthy, something that has limited him to fewer than 1,800 regular season minutes over parts of two seasons. More important than Rodriguez’s team-best two goals and two assists during preseason are that he’s not even had a hint of injury. If he can stay healthy, he could up having a huge season.
It was a bit of an up and down preseason in terms of performances for Wingo, but he was consistently used as a right back, in itself a significant step forward. Wingo has moved around so much during his first two seasons that simply having a position to call his own has to be considered a victory. Despite some of his defensive struggles, though, he showed some quality attacking play. His assist to Nouhou against FC Dallas was the best example of this, but he had several other strong plays that suggested he’s a player who could at least be useful as a late sub when the team is chasing a goal. With a a bit more refining, it’s not at all hard to imagine him eventually growing into a starting-caliber right back.
The one seemingly open spot in the starting lineup going into preseason appeared to be left back and it looks like Smith has won it, at least for now. That’s due at least in part to Nouhou showing up nearly two weeks late, but Smith deserves credit for at least continuing to show flashes of the player who was so intriguing during his six matches last year. His best moment was his run and assist to Raúl Ruidíaz in the Houston match. He consistently showed himself to be dangerous in the attack. Smith’s defense is still a bit of a work in progress, granted, and it’s still unclear how seriously he hurt himself against the Earthquakes, but right now he does appear to be the starting left back and that counts for something.