Although the 2023-24 offseason has not been quite as active as I had expected it to be, this is still shaping up to be a rather exciting year for a variety of reasons. The Seattle Sounders will add at least one new Designated Player, have a host of 50th anniversary celebrations planned and appear as poised as ever to add to their trophy cabinet.
I’m sure this season will have tons of the twists and turns that are almost impossible to foresee, but here are a few predictions I’m still willing to make:
Pedro de la Vega signing completed before Sounders open training camp
The Sounders had hoped to make this announcement almost as soon as the 2023 season ended, but transfers like this are notoriously complicated. Still, I feel reasonably comfortable saying this will get done before the Sounders start reporting to preseason camp on Jan. 12.
Due to how long this has taken to get across the finish line – we ran our first story on de la Vega a month ago – I think some of the shine has seemingly worn off, but don't let that distract from the reality that this would be a huge signing. My colleague Andrew Pearson just wrote a rather extensive scouting report on de la Vega, and he looks to be a very good talent. If not for an ACL injury, de la Vega could very well be playing at a top European club and he's already put up some solid campaigns in Argentina at 22 years old.
The Sounders are probably going to break their transfer record to bring him in and that may prove to be a relative bargain.
Reign sale goes through, but not with Sounders as owners
This probably ends up sounding like a bigger prediction than it actually is, but let me explain. I do think the Sounders are going to be very involved in the Reign's future and there's a pretty good chance that there will be a lot of ownership overlap, but I don't think this is going to be a situation like Orlando City-Pride, Houston Dynamo-Dash or Portland Timbers-Thorns where the two teams are effectively one organization.
I do, however, think there are going to be a lot of areas where they work together. For instance, I think we'll see some staffing overlap, especially on the business, ticketing and media relations side. We might even see some shared resources on the scouting side or training side, but I expect that the front offices will remain separate and they'll have mostly separate budgets. If you're trying to envision how this might look, think about how the Sounders and Seahawks shared resources from 2009-14.
I think it's also safe to assume the team will rebrand to something like Seattle Reign and will hopefully bring back some sort of updated version of the queen logo. Considering how close we are now to the season, though, I do wonder if we've run out of time to get that onto gear in 2024...
Sounders will get 20+ goals out of the No. 9 spot
By now, it's become pretty obvious that the Sounders are preparing to go into 2024 with Jordan Morris and Raúl Ruidíaz competing for the starting No. 9 spot. I suspect that Morris has the upper hand based on how he played last year. For all the talk of his lack of ruthlessness and killer instinct, the reality is that he was still tied for seventh in the league in non-penalty goals during the regular season (fifth if you include the playoffs) and was 10th in non-penalty xG, where he actually overperformed by about two goals.
What makes this all the more impressive is that nine of Morris' 14 goals across all competitions came in the 13 matches he started as a forward. That's a strike rate of about .69 goals per match, which would be top 4 in the league.
While it can reasonably be assumed that Morris will miss some time with injury, it's looking less likely that he'll miss significant time for international duty, as he's unlikely to be an overage player on the Olympic team and does not appear likely to make the USMNT's Copa America roster. Add it all up and there's every reason to think he can score at least 15 goals.
I'm not particularly bullish on Ruidíaz's ability to return to DP-level production, but I don't have a hard time buying the idea that he can contribute at least five goals even if it's in relatively limited minutes. Heck, maybe he can even thrive in a more limited role like that.
It's also worth noting that Ruidíaz is still only 33, an age at which it's not particularly hard to find productive MLS strikers, and that his .43 non-penalty goals per 90 last year was tied for 12th best in MLS.
At least two Sounders will feature in the Olympics
I'm fully expecting Josh Atencio and Jackson Ragen to both be named to the upcoming United States national team camp, which is largely being used to get together a group of players likely to feature in the 2024 Summer Olympics. Atencio, as you may remember, also got called into the most recent U23 camp, although illness kept him from actually appearing. Ragen, 25, is not technically eligible for the USMNT U23 team, but his name keeps getting brought up as one of three potential overage players for that team.
Beyond them, Obed Vargas and Reed Baker-Whiting have also been involved in U23 camps in the past and would seemingly be solid candidates to make this team, especially if they are able to get significant playing time with the Sounders during the first half of the season.
If any of them make the roster, they'll be the first active Sounders to participate in the Summer Olympics and the first Washingtonians since Chris Henderson (1992) and Kasey Keller (1996) to represent the United States in men's soccer.
Sounders will set a club record for outgoing transfer fee
I'm pretty sure I made this prediction last year, as well – and it didn't come to fruition – but it feels even more likely now. The record fee is still DeAndre Yedlin's move to Tottenham that brought in about $3 million in 2014, which doesn't seem like a lot when compared to what other teams have been selling players for in the last few years.
The two best candidates to top that number are probably Vargas and Baker-Whiting, both of whom have been scouted pretty heavily by European scouts, are still quite young (18) and have significant upside. A year ago, I'd have said Vargas was far more likely to move, but I think Baker-Whiting is now that player. If he can get significant minutes during the first half of the year, don't be at all surprised if he moves somewhere in the summer.
We'll spend a lot of time wondering about hosting Club World Cup games
You would think that being the only MLS team currently qualified for the 2025 Club World Cup would put the Sounders in very strong position to at least host some games. Turns out, that might not be the case.
If you remember, I made a plea to First & Goal – the non-profit that manages Lumen Field – to install permanent grass now, rather than waiting until 2026. My thinking was that a lot of international competition is scheduled to roll through the United States over the next two years and that this would be a way of ensuring Lumen Field hosts as many games as possible. Predictably, that will not be happening.
Whether or not that cost them the ability to host Copa America matches, there's a very good chance it will also cost them the opportunity to host Club World Cup matches. With the world's biggest clubs already being dragged into this competition, there's a good chance that FIFA will demand that all hosts have permanent grass. Barring an unforeseen change in heart, that's going to leave Lumen Field on the outside looking in.
It's hard to overstate how massive of a disappointment that would be. We're talking about the possibility of the Sounders hosting some of the world's biggest teams in as close to real competition as we'll probably ever see. To call it the opportunity of a lifetime is not even a little hyperbolic, as we have no idea when the now once-every-four-years Club World Cup will return to the United States, let alone at the same time the Sounders have qualified.
Not to put too fine of a point on things, but it’s things like this that make it imperative for the Sounders to at least explore the possibility of having their own stadium.