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Seattle Sounders 2019 MLS preview

It’s another year with high expectations.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

As the Seattle Sounders take the field for their 11th season of play, they are celebrating their 10th birthday. Those 10 years saw a lot of change in MLS. One thing has been consistent — Seattle is a good team with high expectations every season but their first.

How did they finish in 2018?

Hot, like blazing hot. Sure, Portland outperformed the Sounders in penalty kicks during the playoffs, but that was after the Seattle Sounders set the record for the best second half of a season of all time.

18-11-5 +15, 2nd in the West, 4th in the Shield — out in the Western Conference semis.

What’s new in 2019? / Biggest change from last year?

Jordan Morris won the 2016 Rookie of the Year in the same season when the team won MLS Cup. Then he disappeared. There were minor injuries plaguing early 2017 and a hamstring issue in late 2017. Then in CCL action of 2018 he blew his ACL, missing all of the season.

Now, he’s back. He will mostly play winger, with some time up top. If he can resume his career trajectory of United States national team forward that can score against Mexico and 2016 Rookie of the Year, the Sounders will have a potent and diverse offense. His speed is back, his left foot is better. His right foot remains a powerful goal-scoring threat and now he also hits a decent cross. Morris’ touch still needs to get into full season mode. That’s what a year-and-a-half away from competitive matches will do.

Who’s out?

Clint Dempsey retired in August of last year. Captain America is now a fisherman, more Hawkeye than the shielded hero.

Osvaldo Alonso, the heart and soul of the team for 10 years, is gone. He is a short list Hall of Famer, who belongs in the conversation with Shalrie Joseph and Chris Armas as the best defensive midfielders in MLS history. While Seattle may not miss his play on the field, as it was fading, he was the captain of the team that won MLS Cup. El Corazon leaves the Sounders with an empty space where their heart was. They’ll need to find a new one.

The other losses weren’t as significant. Tony Alfaro (joined Chivas on a free), Calle Brown (joined Loudon United on a free), Felix Chenkam (available on a free), Waylon Francis (traded to Crew), Aaron Kovar (retired), Jordan McCrary (waived) and Lamar Neagle (on trial with Phoenix Rising) are the others that left.

Who’s in?

Sounders didn’t add much talent. They acquired Jonathan Campbell, a depth centerback, Saad Abdul-Salaam, and Trey Muse. Muse is a Homegrown Player who will be the third keeper on the MLS team and the primary keeper for Tacoma Defiance in the USL Championship. Campbell is backing up one of the strongest sets of centerbacks in the league — Chad Marshall, Kim Kee-hee, Roman Torres, Gustav Svensson and Jordy Delem. Abdul-Salaam will be the backup right back and see emergency time at centerback.

What’s the new jersey?

It’s black with pink, more like a classic third kit than the secondary typically is. Where 19 teams will wear white on days when they need a “light” option, the Seattle Sounders will remain with Rave Green as their light/primary and the Nightfall kit will be their dark/alternate.

This is also the Sounders first time without Xbox as their jersey sponsorship. New sponsor Zulily is paying more than Microsoft did on an annual basis, while not sponsoring as many elements of the Sounders apparel or gameday experience.

Projected starting XI

It will be a 4-2-3-1 that can morph into a two-forward set at times. The situation at left back is a bit unsettled, but at the start of the season the following players will get the most run as long as they are healthy;

Stefan Frei; Brad Smith, Chad Marshall, Kim Kee-hee, Kelvin Leerdam; Gustav Svensson, Cristian Roldan; Victor Rodriguez, Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris; Raul Ruidiaz

Expectations for 2019?

Sounders should expect to compete for the Western Conference regular season title. They’ve earned 1.80 points per game over the last 18 months of soccer and they barely had Raul Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris during that stretch of 40+ games.

Fans should expect to compete for multiple trophies. This could be a season on par with 2011 and 2014, their top two regular season finishes.

What did we learn last season about this team?

Never, ever give up — it is a core value of the Seattle Sounders. They don’t quit. They don’t quit on each other, and they don’t quit on you. No matter how bad the Dire Days get, there is a deeper place they can reach and they’ll find a way to succeed. The beginnings can be rough, but every summer and fall is when the Sounders succeed, looking as good as the greatest team in the land.

Also, the defense will always be good. It’s not just about the parts, though the parts are amazing. It’s not about the keeper, though he’s amazing. It’s not just about Chad Marshall, though he will always be the Chad Marshall of the Year. It’s not just about the defensive midfielders. This is a team that believes more in defense than you believe in anything.

What’s the biggest concern for this season?

There’s a lack of depth in defensive midfield. Gustav Svensson and Cristian Roldan are a strong partnership. After those two things drop off rapidly. Jordy Delem is Martinique’s best player, a mobile defensive mid who can also play in the backline. After that the talent that fills in are attacking midfielders who can play as 8s, but not in the role of destroyers.

An injury, or series of international calls (all three are in their national teams), will force the likes of Harry Shipp and Nicolas Lodeiro to play back a line, well away from their best roles. It could lead to Seattle with a more potent attack, but leaking goals.

Who’s the player fans will learn to love?

Seattle’s favorite tiny Spaniard is former Barcelona Academy product Victor Rodriguez. He’s got the slick ball skills one would expect from a La Liga veteran (Sporting Gijon, Getafe, Elche, Real Zargoza). His comfort in tight spaces and ability to cut in help him pop into dangerous areas in the box, where he’s earned 8 goals and 10 assists in his season and a half of MLS regular season and playoff appearances (32 appearances for 2,166 minutes). His goal celebration is two flat palms with a blown kiss.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

V-Rod, V8, V8R — whatever you know him by you’ll know him as Seattle’s third or fourth most potent attacking player, the twitterless Victor Rodriguez.

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