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Pre-MLS is Back look at state of Sounders’ roster

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Here are the things you missed, forgot about or probably haven’t considered for several months.

Kayla Mehring / Sounder at Heart

By the time the Seattle Sounders kick off in the MLS is Back Tournament on July 10, it will have been just a little over four months since they last played a match. Considering that’s a few weeks longer than the actual offseason, it’s understandable that you might need a bit of a refresher on the current state of the roster.

Let’s get all caught up...

Who left after MLS Cup?

There were some significant changes, especially on defense, where three of the four starters in MLS Cup left the team.

Victor Rodriguez (Elche), Roman Torres (Inter Miami), Kim Kee-Hee (Ulsan Hyundai) and Brad Smith (Cardiff City) were the most significant contributors to depart, while Saad Abdul-Salaam (FC Cincinnati), Bryan Meredith (Vancouver Whitecaps), Emanuel Cecchini (Union de Santa Fe), Jonathan Campbell (retired) and Luis Silva (unattached) also left the team during the offseason.

Who was signed in the offseason?

Shane O’Neill: The first significant signing of the offseason came pretty late, when the veteran centerback joined during training camp. He started in both Concacaf Champions League matches as well as the MLS season opener. He’s been solid in each outing.

João Paulo: The biggest move of the offseason was the addition of the Brazilian midfielder on a loan that makes him a Designated Player for 2020. He scored in his first two appearances, including the fastest debut goal in Sounders history, and added an assist in the MLS season opener. He’s been very good. Unfortunately, it also looks like he’s hurt and will likely miss at least the first two group stage games.

Yeimar Gomez Andrade: The Colombian centerback joined very late in the preseason and as a result has only played in two of the team’s four competitive matches this year. What we know is that he’s a big guy with plenty of physicality, but has made a couple costly errors that can likely be chalked up to unfamiliarity with his teammates.

Miguel Ibarra: Signed just before Seattle’s first CCL match, the veteran MLS midfielder actually ended up starting the first two regular-season matches. He was extremely dangerous in both and has compiled the ninth-best xG (1.30) in the league. Poor finishing in the first game and a disallowed goal for a very close offsides in the second game, however, have conspired to keep him off the scoresheet.

Stefan Cleveland: The backup goalkeeper joined the Sounders from the Chicago Fire early in the offseason.

What has happened so far?

CCL disappointment: The Sounders got off to a blazing start, opening up a 2-0 lead on the road in their CCL matchup with Olimpia. But they then surrendered a pair of second-half goals and were forced to settle for a tie. They then fell behind 1-0 in the second leg before roaring back with a pair of goals to take control of the second leg. But a late goal from Olimpia put the match into penalties, where the Sounders stumbled badly and lost, 4-2.

Uneven start: Despite creating the bulk of the chances in the first half of the MLS opener, the Sounders fell behind 1-0 to the Chicago Fire before Jordan Morris basically took over. Morris scored a pair of goals — and had another ruled out — to lead the Sounders to victory. The following week the Sounders fell behind to the Columbus Crew 1-0 and needed a retaken Raúl Ruidíaz penalty to equalize, again despite dominating the match.

Other things to know

Nicolas Lodeiro fully fit: If there was one silver lining to the break it was the midfielder getting time to recover from knee tendinitis that kept him out of much of preseason training and the first four matches. He had been close enough to returning that he was scheduled to travel with the Sounders for their eventually canceled road match against the Houston Dynamo, but now seems fully ready to go.

Will Bruin injured: The forward had been progressing nicely from the ACL injury that forced him to miss most of the 2019 season, but he suffered a tibia injury in the first scrimmage after the break. He is in to Florida, but it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play.

Harry Shipp retires: After helping get the union contract finalized, the veteran midfielder surprisingly announced he was hanging up his boots.

Homegrown signings: Josh Atencio, Ethan Dobbelaere and Shandon Hopeau were all signed during the coronavirus break. Atencio has seen extensive time at both centerback and defensive midfielder over 27 USL appearances. Dobbelaere can play across the attacking band of the midfield. Hopeau is the most experienced of the bunch, but is still just 21 and coming off his best professional season after contributing five goals and four assists to the Defiance last year.

Biggest questions

How will the midfield come together?: Generating scoring chances was not a problem for the Sounders in their first four competitive matches. Even with goals disallowed in two of them, the Sounders have scored seven goals. Adding Lodeiro to the mix promises to make them even more dangerous. With João Paulo likely out for now, there’s some question as to what the midfield will look like. If Schmetzer goes more attack-minded we will likely see Ibarra start on the right side with Cristian Roldan in the defensive midfield alongside Gustav Svensson. If it’s a more defensive look, we will likely see Roldan on the right with Jordy Delem with Svensson.

Who’s the left back?: Nouhou started both CCL matches and Joevin Jones started both MLS matches. From training photos, it seems like Nouhou might have the slight edge but it’s entirely possible in a tournament like this that we see both looks plenty.

Who’s the backup striker?: While the defense and midfield both seem reasonably deep, there’s more of a question at striker. With Bruin out, the obvious candidate to fill in is Justin Dhillon. As good as he’s been with the Defiance, though, he’s very unproven at the MLS level. If he can’t get the job done, there’s at least a chance that Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez gets a look.

What about Sounders’ opponents?

San Jose Earthquakes (July 10, 6 PM, ESPN): In the before times, they were looking pretty shaky after going 0-1-1 in their first two games of the season despite playing both at home. They also were the last team to return to full team training, not actually starting until they got to Florida on June 24. They’ve only had about 12 days to get up to speed and it’s not entirely clear how that will affect their ability to run their man-marking system they were known for last year.

Chicago Fire (July 14, 6 AM, ESPN): They were a late addition to the group, replacing FC Dallas who was withdrawn after a rash of COVID-19 cases. Oddly, the Sounders have already played this Eastern Conference team this year. The Sounders won that game 2-1, but the Fire were probably the better team for the first half until Jordan Morris came on. They retooled their team pretty significantly in the offseason and could be dangerous, especially since they’ll be fully rested while the Sounders will be coming off a match four days prior.

Vancouver Whitecaps (July 19, 7:30 PM, FS1): As hard as it is to know what to expect from anyone in this tournament, that’s especially true for the Whitecaps. Among the players not to make the trip to Florida are big-money signing Lucas Cavallini, Fredy Montero and Tosaint Ricketts. Those are arguably their top three strikers. They weren’t exactly great before this but they were also among the first teams to return to full training, which could work in their favor.

Note: This story originally published on June 30 and was updated on July 10.