The Seattle Sounders are now about 10 days into their 2023 preseason and I think I’ve seen enough to make some broad observations. Here they are:
Sounders took the offseason seriously
Although this is the earliest the Sounders have ever started preseason, it was also their longest offseason thanks to missing the playoffs for the first time in their MLS history. Unlike many offseasons, the Sounders had plenty of opportunity to totally forget about soccer and it wouldn’t have been totally shocking if they showed up in bad shape.
To the contrary, everyone seems to have agreed that the players took their offseason plans seriously and showed up more fit than in any other preseason. That’s especially important this year as the Sounders only have about four weeks to get ready for their first competitive game, which will likely be against Egyptian power Al Ahly who will be in midseason form.
Due to fewer fitness concerns, the Sounders were also able to start working tactical elements into their training sessions earlier than they normally would. I don’t know how many of those tactical wrinkles we’ll see early on — Brian Schmetzer alluded to the idea that he’s inclined to simplify things for the Club World Cup since those teams are unlikely to have heavily scouted them — but the Sounders coaches are keenly aware that opponents seem to have “found them out” last season and are keen to change things up.
How that manifests itself — maybe we see more two forward and/or three centerback formations — remains to be seen.
Focused on the Club World Cup
Ask anyone whose teams isn’t in the Club World Cup how big of a deal it is and I’m sure you’ll get a lot of shrugs. The reality is no fanbase starts of the season circling this tournament as something they hope to win at the end.
Of course, teams who are actually in it surely feel different. While it won’t make or break their season, apparently Real Madrid was one of the driving forces behind getting this year’s tournament played at all. The Sounders aren’t going into this with particularly high expectations — I suspect they all feel like simply getting to play Real Madrid would itself be an accomplishment — but they’re definitely treating the whole experience like a big deal.
At the very least, the Sounders understand that the eyes of North America will be on them.
“People will judge the MLS entirely based on our performance,” Cristian Roldan said last week. “We have a lot of pressure and our team is excited to hold the pressure that comes with playing in a Club World Cup.”
This is probably the Club World Cup roster
There’s obviously still a little bit of time to make changes, but my assumption at this point is that the key players for the Sounders at the Club World Cup are already on the roster. Whether or not that fills you with confidence or dread will be highly variable among the fanbase, I suspect.
As you’d probably expect, the Sounders players seem just fine with that.
“This is the roster we won champions league with,” Cristian Roldan reminded everyone. “I think people are overlooking that. It’s good enough to compete at a high level. It’s not about getting new guys, it’s about integrating guys who have been part of the program already to fulfill their roles on the team.”
How honest Roldan is being in that assessment is obviously hard to say, but it does speak to the attitude I think the Sounders simply have to have. There’s no point in moaning about needing a more attack-minded left back, especially when the one you have was good enough to lock down some of the most talented attackers in the world. Maybe you think they need some better attacking options on the wing, but their starters were both good enough to represent the United States at the World Cup and they have a backup for whom they paid more than $2M to acquire. It’s possible their centerbacks could be upgraded, but understand that the two they have also recently were considered borderline Best XI players.
The reality is that signing obvious upgrades at any of these positions is not necessarily going to be a slamdunk and these are the guys who got them here anyway. I’m not saying the Sounders should simply sit on their hands — especially now that they appear to have some allocation money to play with — but I’m also not in a huge hurry for them to do it.
What I’m hearing
The last time the Sounders signed a player they picked in the MLS SuperDraft was 2018. That was the year they picked Alex Roldan. There might be a chance that changes this year, despite the Sounders trading out of the first round. Eythor Bjørgolfsson was their first pick of the 2023 SuperDraft, the 38th overall. He’s apparently been pretty impressive in preseason.
Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 195 pounds, he has a totally different profile than any other attacking players on the roster. He’s apparently very good in the air and even scored in the Sounders’ first real scrimmage of preseason, putting away a Reed Baker-Whiting corner. Probably worth keeping an eye on, even if he starts out with Tacoma Defiance.
Everything else you need to know
- The Sounders will open the Club World Cup against the winner of Egypt’s Al Ahly and New Zealand’s Auckland City. If they win, they’d play Real Madrid. I did a full explainer here.
- The Sounders will leave to Marbella, Spain in less than a week, spend about a week there and then head to Morocco for the Club World Cup.
- By my math, the Sounders have acquired more than $500,000 in 2023 General Allocation Money since last year after trading away two more international roster spots.
- Brian Schmetzer thinks the Sounders have a logjam of young midfielders. Here’s how I think that might play out.
- MLS revealed some of the big names that will be part of their new streaming service.
- Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris have apparently signed extensions. Roldan also told Herculez Gomez that he didn’t want to be a DP.