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Some bold Seattle soccer predictions for 2023

2022 was all ups and downs, but hopefully 2023 offers something special of its own.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

We are officially closing the books on 2022, a year quite unlike any in Seattle soccer history. The Seattle Sounders reached their highest high by becoming the first MLS team to win Concacaf Champions League and probably their lowest low when they failed to make the playoffs for the first time since joining MLS in 2009.

There were plenty of positives elsewhere in the organization as well. The Sounders Academy won the GA Cup for the second consecutive time and the Tacoma Defiance made the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

Not to be overshadowed, OL Reign had arguably their most important season after moving to Lumen Field full time. They went on an epic end-of-season run to claim the NWSL Shield on the final day and then hosted a playoff game in front of a record crowd of 21,491 people.

Here’s some of the things our writers think are in store for 2023:

We’ll finally let ourselves appreciate 2022

We’re starting here because it’s the most immediately relevant: I think this is the year we’ll actually let ourselves appreciate the positives of 2022. One thing I was constantly amazed by this year was how many people genuinely wanted to act as though the Sounders winning CCL didn’t really matter in terms of how they looked at the season. My contention all along was that once the season was securely in the rearview mirror, becoming the first MLS team to win CCL would be far more relevant than anything that could happen in the regular season. Now we find out just how true that is.

The Sounders made history, don’t forget that. We were treated to a night unlike any other and it lived up to every possible expectation. Maybe they were always doomed to suffer some letdown after that, but I don’t think we’ll be too worried about that anymore. - Jeremiah

Making history at the Club World Cup

OK, this one is a little obvious as the Sounders are guaranteed to make some sort of history when they become the first MLS team to ever actually compete in the Club World Cup. Although the LA Galaxy qualified for the 2001 version by winning the Concacaf Champions Cup — the precursor to the CCL — that year’s tournament was canceled. But I’m going to go a step farther and predict that the Sounders will also become the first MLS team to actually win a Club World Cup match.

The Sounders will face one of Auckland City (New Zealand), Wydad Casablanca (Morocco), Al Ahly (Egypt) or Al-Hilal (Saudi Arabia), the latter three of which will effectively be playing home games. Like the Sounders, Auckland City will be coming out of their offseason, while the other three teams are all around midseason.

Despite those built-in disadvantages, I think the Sounders will probably have a talent advantage and it can at least be argued that they’ll have fewer external distractions. Their entire preseason will be built around ramping up for this game and as of right now they will likely be at or very close to full strength. - Jeremiah

Building on the success of year 1 at Lumen Field

Although the playoff semifinal was an emotional letdown, OL Reign’s first full season at Lumen Field was inarguably a big success both on and off the field. The club broke attendance records multiple times and far surpassed expectations going into the season, especially given the short turnaround time to sell season tickets after the team announced their move and the small marketing team they’ve continued to expand over the course of the year. Yet there’s still a huge opportunity for further growth — 2023 is a World Cup year, and if past history is any indication, the second half of the coming season will see another massive influx of new and lapsed fans filling the stands. In both 2015 and 2019 attendance more than doubled in the summer months, setting new records each year.

The club got some invaluable experience with the logistics of opening additional sections at Lumen Field for the 2022 semifinal, which should make the process much smoother overall for games with large crowds in 2023. In addition to having significantly more lead time to market regular season games, they now have a better idea of which sections are most in demand, ideal price points, and can also offer multi-game packages for fans to see not just the many USWNT stars around the league, but also the other international stars who will be in Australia and New Zealand.

Even if the USWNT doesn’t claim the trophy for a third-straight tournament I have no doubt some OL Reign games later this summer will draw upward of 15,000 fans, perhaps even eclipsing the current standalone record of 21,491. - Steve

The Sounders start selling

The Sounders have seldom stood in the way of a player pursuing different opportunities, domestically or abroad, which has typically manifested in mutually agreeing to terminate a contract or otherwise part ways. According to Transfermarkt, in the team’s MLS era they’ve only received a fee of some sort for a player 12 times — it’s only 11 players, as Sporting CP first paid a loan fee for Fredy Montero before paying an additional transfer fee — and four players have been sold to foreign clubs. That seems likely to start changing, even if we only see the beginning of that transformation in 2023.

Danny Leyva’s rumored transfer to Liga MX with additional interest from European clubs could see him immediately placed among the Sounders’ highest outbound transfer fees if he brings in anything close to they’re reported asking price of $2 million. Leyva seems likely to be the first in a coming wave of potential outbound transfers being led by Homegrown talent. Reed Baker-Whiting is currently training with Bundesliga side SC Freiburg, with the team reportedly considering a loan with an option to buy. Baker-Whiting couldn’t join the team on loan until he turns 18 at the end of March, but is a highly-rated prospect who’s been evidently attracting European interest for some time. In August Obed Vargas turns 18, and if he can recover fully from his back injury he seems likely to be the Sounders first sale that approaches the 8-figure mark.

With the club’s visibility on a global scale increasing, having sent four players to the World Cup and now preparing to take part in the Club World Cup, there’s never been a better opportunity for the Sounders to enter the transfer market as a real player. - Tim

Defiance continue to test new shapes and tactics

Back in 2021 Wade Webber’s men ran out a variation on the 3-4-2-1 [house] and in 2022 there was his use of high-pressure wingers providing forward defense. These have trickled up to the first team too.

Maybe with their depth at centerback and the current lack of center forwards there will be a combination of an odd-man backline with high pressure. Early in the year Tacoma Defiance ran with three 8s and no traditional 6. High pressure sometimes showed up in rave green, usually from attacking midfield.

There could also be something like the box midfield again, with so many 6s and 8s in the organization needing to play, Defiance may be a spot to run four interchangeable mids who are 6/8/10 as needed, and maybe even without traditional wingbacks and fullbacks.

This would mean more touches for the sellable youth and prep them for the intensity of MLS play. - Dave

Finally beating Portland at home

The last time the Sounders beat the Timbers at home in the regular season was on May 27, 2017. They’ve gone 0-4-2 against their biggest rivals at Lumen Field since then. While that’s somewhat counter-balanced by their 5-4-1 record at Providence Park in that same time, it is an ongoing frustration regardless.

I predict this streak will finally end in 2023. The Sounders will actually get two chances to reverse the streak, on June 3 and against on Sept. 2. Although both games are on short rest, the first match promises to be considerably easier. In that one, the Sounders are closing out a three-game homestand. The second meeting has the Sounders returning home from Austin just a few days prior. - Jeremiah

Something creative with ticketing

The pandemic was pretty hard on the Sounders, and their attendance was already on a steady downward tick before that. I don’t know that this will be the year that turns around, but I do hope they start to get a bit more creative in terms of how they use their inventory.

Here’s what the Mariners do: You pay an upfront fee which then allows you to select which games, where you sit and how many tickets you want at various discounted prices. There doesn’t appear to be any reason the Sounders couldn’t offer something different — at a much lower entry price — in the third deck. - Jeremiah

Sounders will, in fact, contend for at least one trophy

I don’t think it’s that crazy to think the Sounders could contend for the Supporters’ Shield or the MLS Cup, but I have a feeling they’ll make a serious run at the Leagues Cup. They’ve shown they can beat Liga MX opponents in each of the past two seasons and I have to think that experience will serve them well during this summer’s expanded tournament.

Aside from the Sounders’ performance, I think I’m actually kinda looking forward to seeing how this tournament goes. I definitely understand the skepticism, and suspect attendance will be all over the place, but I think there’s some real potential for this to turn into a compelling tournament and wouldn’t mind the Sounders setting the tone. - Jeremiah

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