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Everything you need to know about the Sounders heading into 2020

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The Sounders are ready to defend their 2019 MLS Cup.

Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

It’s hard to imagine any fanbase in MLS is flying any higher than that of the Seattle Sounders right now. Despite an uneven 2019 regular season, they once again showed that no one has more match-winners than they do. Winning their second MLS Cup in three trips to the final over four years was no accident and their best players stood tall when they were needed most. Despite a fair amount of turnover in their starting XI, most of those top contributors are back and all are still very much in their athletic primes. Barring unforeseen circumstances, there’s no reason to think the Sounders are due for any significant regression.

How did they finish in 2019?

The Sounders finished second in the Western Conference and fourth in the Supporters’ Shield standings with 56 points. Their +3 goal-difference was not particularly inspiring, but their run through the playoffs can hardly be called some sort of lucky streak. The Sounders averaged 3 goals per game and outscored their playoff opponents, 12-5.

What’s the biggest change from last year?

There were a couple big additions in the offseason, with Brazilian midfielder João Paulo and Colombian centerback Yeimar Gómez Andrade joining the squad. João Paulo has already impressed, scoring the fastest goal in a debut appearance in Sounders history. Gómez Andrade also looked strong in his debut, but is part of a backline that is almost completely changed from MLS Cup and will likely need a few games to settle in.

What’s the one storyline you’ll be following?

If there’s one question surrounding the Sounders, it’s probably the centerback position. Xavier Arreaga flashed some serious potential last year, but also has shown a penchant for yellow cards and seems inclined to some physical play. Gómez Andrade is a beast very much in the mold of Roman Torres, but is also untested in MLS and was a relatively late addition in the offseason. There’s the potential for this to be one of the league’s top pairings, but even if they shine the depth behind them looks a bit shallow. Right now Shane O’Neill is the only other natural centerback on the roster. Even if the Sounders sign homegrown products Josh Atencio and Sam Rogers, there’s not much proven MLS talent in this positional group.

Who’s out?

Román Torres, Kim Kee-hee and Brad Smith were three-fourths of the Sounders starting backline in MLS Cup and Victor Rodriguez won the game’s MVP. All are gone. The Sounders also bid farewell to MLS veterans like Jonathan Campbell and Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Who’s in?

João Paulo and Gómez Andrade are the two biggest acquisitions, but O’Neill could end up being a very significant one as well. The Sounders also added Miguel Ibarra right before their first CCL game, which gives them some needed depth on the wing. If the Sounders end up making a long run in CCL or in the Open Cup, new backup goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland may have a significant role as well.

What’s the new jersey?

Sounders FC

They call it “forever green”, but fans seem to be calling it “watermelon.”

Who’s the coach?

Brian Schmetzer is mostly known nationally as some sort of local-boy-makes-good story, but that dramatically undersells his coaching accomplishments. In addition to having now won two MLS Cups in less than four years on the job, he also has a couple USL titles. The only coach in American history with more professional outdoor titles than Schmetzer is Bruce Arena.

How will summer tournaments impact the squad?

Nicolás Lodeiro (Uruguay), Raúl Ruidíaz (Peru), Arreaga (Ecuador) and Gustav Svensson (Sweden) are all reasonably likely to be called into summer tournaments. The Sounders could end up playing as many as seven matches while those players are at Copa America and Euro 2020, respectively. The Sounders should be reasonably well covered, but losing four players up the spine is bound to have some negative effect.

Projected ideal XI

Assuming full fitness and availability, the Sounders will most likely line up in a 4-2-3-1 like this:

Expectations for 2020?

The stat which probably best explains 2019 for the Sounders is that they went 15-1-2 any time Jordan Morris, Nicolás Lodeiro and Raúl Ruidíaz started together. There’s a pretty good chance they’ll only start 22-25 regular-season games together this year — even assuming full health — but that should be enough to push the team into a solid playoff position, if not Supporters’ Shield contention. Given the relatively soft draw they got in CCL, a run to the semifinals and maybe even to the finals should not be out of the question. If they’re all fit and ready to go in the playoffs, there’s no reason the Sounders can’t repeat as champs.

How will Concacaf Champions League affect the team?

The Sounders have said CCL is their top priority for as long as they’re in it. That probably means that if, say, Jordan Morris needs a rest during a CCL week, it might come in the MLS game. If the Sounders were to go all the way to the finals, that would take them through their eighth game of the MLS season. In other words, there’s a very real possibility that the season could be significantly impacted by CCL.

What’s the biggest concern for this season?

How the Sounders manage schedule congestion and the summer tournaments will likely determine how high up the table they’ll finish. They have plenty of talent to navigate all of this, but it’s going to be a significant challenge and will require some of their young players to take significant steps forward. The Sounders are going to need someone like 16-year-old Danny Leyva to take a big step forward at some point.

Who’s the player fans will learn to love?

When João Paulo’s signing was first announced, it was met by a bit of trepidation. The Sounders had, after all, been talking a lot about spending big money on their next DP signing, someone who they could possibly install as another long-term pillar alongside Lodeiro and Ruidíaz. João Paulo will occupy a DP spot, but that’s more due to the structure of his deal. It only took a couple glimpses of him for fans to forget about all that. João Paulo has quickly shown himself to be a highly talented player with the kind of bite who can succeed in MLS. If he’s consistently as good as he’s already looked in short bursts, he could be the kind of talent that finally pushes the Sounders toward dominance.