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Sounder at Heart staff predictions for the 2019 MLS season

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We predict the award winners and trophy competitors.

MLS: Seattle Sounders at Los Angeles Galaxy Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Predicting a season isn’t just about predicting the Seattle Sounders. They compete in MLS, a league with Byzantine rules and a distinct upper class in which they have to be included. But they are not alone. Over the past few seasons the competition for titles has come down to four teams in the West and four in the East. One of those has fallen off the respectability cliff while a couple remain the primary competition for Seattle’s multi-trophy quest. These are our league predictions.

We asked one reader to participate, and they agreed with the majority that Atlanta United is going to prevent Seattle from winning trophies. Guest author Nate Bowling tells why Atlanta remains the favorite.

Atlanta United (and arguably LAFC) have surpassed the Sounders as the most ambitious teams in MLS. Atlanta’s attendance records shattered ours and their MLS Cup victory in their second year was a shot across the bow of the entire league. They sold [Miguel] Almiron for a league record transfer fee and re-armed by signing the best player in South America, Pity Martínez. With Pity pulling the strings in their attack, I see no reason why [Josef] Martínez won’t score another 20-plus goals. They have easily the best attacking core in the league and arguably the best in league history. I expect them to dominate the East and to enter the playoffs with the #1 overall seed.

The Western Conference threat is Sporting Kansas City. Nos Audietis co-host Aaron Campeau explains.

There are a lot of teams in the Western Conference that are extremely hard to nail down this season, leading to a wide range of plausible outcomes at the top of the table. But one thing that seems like more or less a certainty is that Sporting Kansas City will be in the mix. SKC had a busy offseason with some notable departures, but the key players they’ve lost have been replaced by players that seem to be of a similar (or better) quality, while new addition Kelyn Rowe seems purpose-built for Peter Vermes’ system. Krisztián Németh is the big question mark — Vermes is taking a huge risk that the Hungarian striker will be more like the player he was in his first go-around with SKC than he was with New England in the first half of last year. In any case, SKC were arguably the best team in the Western Conference last season, don’t appear to have gotten any worse (and if their new signings hit may very well have improved) and thanks to the finely-tuned system of the love-to-hate-him Vermes, have arguably the highest floor of any team in MLS. It’s certainly not hard to envision a scenario where LAFC or the Timbers play to their potential and become the class of the West, but there are very few scenarios in which SKC aren’t pushing hard for silverware.

Respondents could pick more than one, but not all picked more than one.

Predicting the MLS MVP contest is difficult. Most dip into past winners, and here we see a four-horse race. Zlatan Ibrahimović, Josef Martínez, Pity Martínez and Raúl Ruidíaz all had four or more votes. Chris Tobin, author of the world’s best MLS open threads, explains why Zlatan will beat out his competition.

Zlatan scored 22 goals and added 10 assists in 2018 just one year removed from an April 2017 knee injury. While Zlatan will likely still skip games on field turf, I expect him to play more than the 24 starts and 2,143 MLS minutes he had in 2018. With the added game time, it is possible to see Zlatan make good on his promise to “break every record in MLS” and win the MVP in the process.

Josef Martínez and Zlatan the Zlatan will compete for the Golden Boot, with Raúl Ruidíaz being the third most popular selection. SaH tactician Casey Dunau backed Raúl.

Ruidíaz, Ibra, and Martínez are all elite, so I think the difference will come from how comfortable they are in the systems they play. I think the hangover from the Almiron/Tata era will be more than people expect, even with Pity playing. Zlatan is less system reliant, but will still have to deal with a new coach and uncertain roster. I also think he’ll end up playing less games than Ruidíaz given his age and resistance to playing on turf. All in all, stability of the Sounders roster will give Ruidíaz the edge over the course of the season.

The Chad Marshall of the Year award will not go to Chad Marshall (though 42% did predict it). The second most popular selection is former Sounder Aaron Long, but Andrew Harvey (our wonderful beat reporter in 2018) sees Tim Parker as the preseason favorite.

Cynically, it’s because I don’t think the league is likely to give it to Long two years in a row but I still expect the Red Bulls to play ridiculous shut down defense.

Several Sounders will be in the Best XI conversation. Jeremiah Oshan (the best number one a captain can have) thinks that Nicolás Lodeiro, Raúl, and Cristian Roldan are more likely to make the cut.

This promises to be the first time that the Sounders put three players into the MLS Best XI. Nicolás Lodeiro should be considered one of the favorites to land on this team, especially coming off a career year in which he finished third in MLS with 12 primary assists and led the league with 3.5 key passes per 90 minutes. Raúl Ruidíaz and Cristian Roldan are likely more darkhorse candidates to earn this honor, but each have a strong case. If Ruidíaz can maintain his scoring pace from last year, he’ll likely be among the league leaders. Roldan, meanwhile, is expected to get his first full season at what most consider his best position.

The full ranking of Sounders who could be in the Best XI conversation is large, with eight first team players garnering votes. Jeremiah covered three of the top four above, with Stefan Frei rounding things out.

  1. Ruidiaz (21)
  2. Lodeiro (19)
  3. Frei (16)
  4. C.Roldan (10)
  5. Kim (7)
  6. Marshall (6)
  7. Rodriguez (3)
  8. Nouhou (1)

The Sounders’ 11th season starts on March 2 at 7:00 p.m. with coverage on FS1. CenturyLink Field remains one of the networks’ favorite stadiums for broadcasts and Seattle remains a team who is expected to compete for trophies.