The Seattle Sounders’ defense of the 2019 MLS Cup effectively starts on Tuesday when they officially open training camp. The session itself will likely feel a bit empty — not only do they still only have 20 players under contract, but many of their biggest names won’t even be in attendance. Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris are with the United States national team, while Nicolas Lodeiro is in Southern California doing MLS-related events.
Once those three are back in the fold, this collection of talent is pretty close to the one that played The Best Team in MLS History off the pitch. Still, there are at least five big questions that will need answering this preseason if the Sounders are to make a bid at repeating.
Who will play centerback?
This is probably the most pressing issue facing the Sounders. I know it’s been said repeatedly, but the Sounders still have just one natural centerback on the roster. Sure, Jordy Delem or Gustav Svensson could play there in a pinch and you could maybe even convince me that they’d be very good in that spot if it were made their primary position, but the Sounders still don’t have a real anchor on defense. They absolutely need to find one, and the sooner the better.
Who will play right mid?
While it’s obviously true that Victor Rodriguez didn’t even start a playoff game and that the guy who did is back, it still feels like there’s a rather gaping hole at right midfield. The Sounders seem to be comfortable with the possibility of using Cristian Roldan there at least until summer. It’s also entirely possible that the Sounders can continue to use Joevin Jones there and turn the left back position over to Nouhou. Either way, there’s going to be an impact up and down the roster.
Which young players step up?
This is one area where we might start getting answers sooner than later. With no new veterans yet signed, teenagers Danny Leyva and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez both have an opportunity to show they deserve bigger first-team roles. That’s probably asking a bit much of the teenagers, but it doesn’t seem entirely out of the realm of possibility that Leyva could secure some playing time in the defensive midfield while Ocampo-Chavez pushes for minutes in the attack. Further down the roster, the lack of a second centerback seems to provide a massive opening for someone like Sam Rogers to claim a spot. Shandon Hopeau is another player who could earn himself a first-team contract with a strong training camp.
Who wins the backup goalkeeper role?
Stefan Cleveland was acquired as a direct replacement for Bryan Meredith. Whether or not he assumes Meredith’s spot as the clear No. 2, though, remains to be seen. After a rocky start, Trey Muse finished his first professional season strong and will at least be given a chance to be Stefan Frei’s primary backup. The smart money is still on Cleveland to win that job, but one of these guys is probably going to get at least a handful of first-team appearances this year.
Will we sign anyone before the CBA is finalized?
The numbers suggest the Sounders basically HAVE to sign someone before they know exactly what the new CBA looks like, but it’s entirely possible those signings are back-of-the-roster or younger players. Maddening as it may be, GM Garth Lagerwey has given very strong indications that he’s not about to commit significant resources without knowing the rules for 2020 and beyond. Rational as that may be, with no CBA agreement seemingly close at hand, that could make for some very frustrated fans.