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Sizing up Sounders opponents in MLS is Back Tournament

FC Dallas is likely to be Sounders’ biggest obstacle to advancement.

MLS: MLS Cup Playoffs-Round One-FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Looking around at the other MLS is Back Tournament groups, the Seattle Sounders’ Group B feels pretty manageable. FC Dallas is the only other team who made the playoffs last year — where they lost in an epic overtime affair with the Sounders. Here’s what we know about Seattle’s opponents:

FC Dallas

2019 finish: 13-12-9, seventh in West, eliminated in Western Conference quarterfinals

2020 start: 1-0-1, fourth in West

What to expect: Dallas came into the season as one of the trendy picks to make a significant step forward after an up-and-down season that featured the youngest roster in the league. The youth is heavily concentrated in the midfield, as veterans make up most of the defense and a pair of veteran internationals should get most of the minutes at forward. Paxton Pomykal, 20, is probably the player expected to make the biggest leap, but actually came off the bench in each of the first two games this year in favor of fellow youngsters Jesus Ferreira and Tanner Tessman. It should be said Pomykal did score in one of those games.

One notable addition Dallas will potentially have in the tournament is Franco Jara. The 31-year-old forward has been one of Liga MX’s most prolific scorers over the past five seasons, but his availability is still somewhat in question (update: he’s officially joined the team). He signed a pre-contract over the offseason that was expected to make him eligible in the summer transfer window, but FIFA has not yet clarified how that will work. He has apparently been training in Frisco, but separate from the team.

The other big question surrounding the team is the availability of goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez. Domestic violence charges have been brought against the 25-year-old and he’ll be suspended at least through the investigation, if not longer.

San Jose Earthquakes

2019 finish: 13-16-5, 8th in West

2020 start: 0-1-1, 11th in West

What to expect: The Earthquakes were one of the big surprises in 2019 after making very few changes to a roster that was one of the worst in the league a year earlier. Head coach Matias Almeyda managed to work some magic with his famed man-to-man defending and nearly guided San Jose to the playoffs.

Presumably given more say over the roster for 2020, the Earthquakes again brought back vast majority of their starters, including veteran Chris Wondolowski. In the first two games of 2020, things did not go well, despite playing both matches at home. The Quakes needed a late goal to pull out a tie in their opener. A week later, they got crushed 5-2 by Minnesota United.

To make matters worse, the Earthquakes were among the last teams to be cleared for individual training and have not begun full team training.

Vancouver Whitecaps

2019 finish: 8-16-10, 12th in West

2020 start: 1-1-0, 7th in West

What to expect: Marc Dos Santos turned over most of the roster in 2019 and the growing pains were obvious. The Whitecaps struggled almost end-to-end and finished last in the conference.

Things seemed to pick up where they left off in 2020, as Vancouver was dismantled 3-1 by Sporting KC in their opener. But they bounced back with a 1-0 road win over the LA Galaxy in Week 2.

The big addition over the offseason was Canadian international Lucas Cavallini, who the Whitecaps signed on a reported transfer fee of $6 million. That has effectively relegated Fredy Montero to coming off the bench, which probably isn’t the most efficient use of a Designated Player spot.

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