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New formation will be key to Sounders’ success in 2021

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Seattle will be trying out a new formation with mostly familiar faces.

After qualifying for four of the last five MLS Cup finals and winning two of them, the Seattle Sounders should always be considered among the favorites. Considering the core of that team remains largely intact, there’s good reason to believe they can at least be competitive again.

Still, there are bigger question marks surrounding the team heading in 2021 than is usually the case. In addition to losing veterans like Gustav Svensson, Kelvin Leerdam and Joevin Jones over the offseason, they will also be without star winger Jordan Morris after he suffered another ACL injury while on loan to Swansea City. A formation change is likely in order and several starting spots will be up for grabs.

This is a talented group, let there be no doubt, but there is also an air of uncertainty surrounding them. Raúl Ruidíaz missed most of the preseason while obtaining his green card and there will probably be six changes from last year’s First Kick starting lineup to this year’s. The Sounders will probably need at least one previously unproven player to step into a significantly bigger role this year. At the very least, this promises to be a year of transition for the Sounders.

2020 results: 11-5-6, 39 points, +21 GD; 2nd in Western Conference; MLS Cup finalist

Head coach: Brian Schmetzer

Key additions: Fredy Montero, Kelyn Rowe

Key losses: Joevin Jones, Kelvin Leerdam, Gustav Svensson

Projected Best XI

Best offseason move: It’s unclear if he’ll be a starter right away but it doesn’t seem a stretch to imagine a world in which Fredy Montero is the most impactful player any MLS team signed this offseason. That he’s coming to the Sounders on a team-friendly deal only makes it better. Montero, who previously played for the Sounders from 2009-12, is still just 32 and his underlying metrics suggest he’s been more productive than his goal and assist totals over the last two seasons might otherwise suggest.

Reasons to be worried about the Sounders: When preseason camp opened, there were 4-5 starting spots basically up for grabs. That’s about 4-5 more than this team usually has. That’s mostly a product of losing four regular contributors and only bringing in two veteran replacements. Even if the starting lineup remains reasonably strong, the depth of the roster is likely to be tested in ways that it hasn’t previously.

Why they are worth watching: No MLS team has enjoyed the level of sustained success as the Sounders. They’ve qualified for the playoffs in all 12 of their seasons, have been to 4 of the past 5 MLS Cup finals, and won two league titles since Schmetzer took over midway through 2016. While every season has seen at least some turnover among the starters, this year feels different. There’s reason for concern, but also reason to be excited. The Sounders have a host of young players who could contend for significant minutes this year and a new primary formation for the first time during their current era. If the Sounders are to continue this run of excellence, it will need to be through evolution. That should make them worth watching.