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Sounders 2022 season preview: Sky’s the limit

On paper, the Sounders look like they’ve assembled an MLS Cup contender. But MLS specializes in ruining those kinds of plans.

No other team in MLS history has shown the level of consistency of the Seattle Sounders, who are now 13-for-13 in qualifying for the MLS playoffs in their history. Even more remarkable, they’ve never finished lower than fourth in the West nor seventh in the Supporters’ Shield race. That’s undeniably remarkable.

But for all that success, they’ve never really put together an amazing season from start to finish. They won the Supporters’ Shield in 2014, but that’s the only year they finished the regular season atop the Western Conference and they’ve finished second for five years’ straight.

This is the year they hope to change that. Their roster is built to win from Day 1 and they should be competitive in every competition they enter. But will they rise to the occasion? Only time will tell.

Seattle Sounders (17-8-9, 60 points, +20 GD)

Head coach: Brian Schmetzer, 7th season

Key additions: Albert Rusnák, Sam Adeniran, Dylan Teves

Key losses: Shane O’Neill, Nicolas Benezet, Brad Smith

Projected Best XI

(4-2-3-1) Frei; Nouhou, Arreaga, Yeimar, Alex Roldan; João Paulo, Cristian Roldan; Rusnák, Lodeiro, Morris; Ruidíaz.

Best offseason move

While many MLS teams have been grabbing headlines with high-priced transfers, the Sounders quietly made what could turn out to be the biggest move of the offseason when they lured Albert Rusnák away from Real Salt Lake on a free-agent deal. Rusnák became the first Designated Player to switch teams via free agency, and at 27 years old, he has plenty of good years ahead of him. Unlike those foreign transfers, Rusnák has already proven that he can produce in MLS and is coming off an 11-goal, 11-assist season. On top of all that, he can play any of the three attacking midfield spots, which should come in handy if Nicolás Lodeiro needs some time off.

Best reason to pay attention

The Sounders have historically gotten off to slow starts — last year’s 13-game unbeaten streak to start the season being an extreme outlier — due mostly to their penchant to keep their options open until the summer transfer window. This year, however, they have something pretty close to an optimized roster from the very beginning. This is a team that is built to win now, which could include making a serious run at the Concacaf Champions League title that has eluded MLS teams in the modern era of this tournament (Seattle has already qualified for the CCL quarterfinals after dismantling Motagua 5-0 in the second leg of their Round of 16 match). Predicting anything in MLS can be a fickle proposition, but the Sounders have the look of a team that could make history.

The one glaring weakness

As exciting as all that may be, the cold hard truth in MLS is that the teams who look the best on paper rarely win it all. Look at last year, for instance. The Columbus Crew were coming off an MLS Cup win — over the Sounders, no less — returned most of their players, and still managed to add talent (sound like anyone?). They ended up missing the playoffs. The New England Revolution put together a record-setting season last year and lost their first playoff game. What could go wrong for the Sounders? As deep as they are, like all MLS teams it’s not unlimited. It’s not hard to imagine injuries to a few key players changing the equation dramatically.

One fact you can use to impress your friends

If your friends follow MLS, they probably know that the Sounders have never missed the playoffs in their 13 years. What they may not have realized was that despite claiming 60 points, last year was the first time Seattle had ever failed to advance to at least the Western Conference semifinals. They became the first team in MLS history to get eliminated in a game in which they didn’t surrender a single shot, falling in penalties to Real Salt Lake. Yeah, that still stings a little.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe character who most personifies this team

Going to go with Hulk, and not just because he’s big and green (although that definitely helps). Like Hulk, the Sounders have two sides: they are built by one of the greatest soccer minds in MLS and are perfectly capable of simply smashing things when they’re so inclined. At the peak of their powers, there are few who can match them, but they’re not impervious to getting stuck in Bruce Banner-mode like he did in Infinity War.