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Seattle’s attacking ensemble cast

After struggling to score goals throughout 2023, the Sounders have made their attack deeper and more versatile.

Last Updated
5 min read
Photo courtesy of Sounders FC Communications

2023 was a weird year. In some ways, the Seattle Sounders were very good. You don’t need to be reminded once again of their elite defense. They were also not that good at one of the important parts of the game, namely putting the soccer ball in the other team’s goal. The starters were alright in that regard, but the team got very little in the way of goals or assists from the team’s depth.

The Sounders have reached their highest heights when players throughout the roster have stepped up and played important roles. The 2022 Concacaf Champions League title was claimed in no small part due to the contributions of backup forward Fredy Montero’s three goals in seven CCL games, and the excellent substitute performances of Kelyn Rowe and Obed Vargas in that final. The Sounders of 2014 claimed the club’s fourth U.S. Open Cup and their first – and so far only – MLS Supporters' Shield, and while Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins dazzled and delighted as they stacked up goals and assists along with their praise, none of that silverware would have been possible without supporting performances from a rotating cast of attackers behind them. All of Chad Barrett, Kenny Cooper, Lamar Neagle, and Marco Pappa had double-digit goals+assists. Even now-assistant coach Andy Rose chipped in five goals in 793 minutes.

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Compare that with 2023: the “starter” tag is a little muddy as form and injuries meant that six players had a reasonable claim on one of the four primarily attacking starting spots. Those six players accounted for 45 of the team’s 67 direct goal contributions during the regular season. Of those players, only Léo Chú and Jordan Morris had double-digit goal contributions (goals+primary assists), accounting for 23 between the two of them. Outside of that group of “starters,” Héber (two goals, one assist), Montero (one goal, one assist), and Paul Rothrock (one goal) were the only primarily attacking players to even get on the scoresheet.

The situation should be markedly improved this year. For one, Rothrock’s one MLS goal last season came in 44 MLS minutes, but he also had two goals in 157 U.S. Open Cup minutes, and if preseason is any genuine measure of what to expect going forward he should be in line for a bigger role. That’s probably true for all of the team’s attacking depth, as the team works to balance getting the best out of everyone and not putting too much weight on any single player, while also trying to keep everyone healthy. Dylan Teves is another player who seems to have made the most of his preseason opportunities, and should be expected to see the field more than his 383 MLS minutes in 2023. Teves, as some had feared or predicted when he moved from the University of Washington to the Sounders, has struggled to find a permanent home, position-wise, but seems like the kind of player who should be suited to the system the Sounders play and pitched in a couple of well-taken goals during preseason.

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A couple of players who could see their roles decreased, potentially to theirs as well as the team’s benefit, are Chú and Raúl Ruidíaz. Chú played his way into a starting role last season, leading the team in combined goals and assists with five goals and seven primary assists. The signing of Pedro de la Vega should mean that, once the young Argentine is fully fit, the starting left midfield/winger spot in the Starting XI is spoken for. While Chú won’t be glad to give up his spot, being used as a change of pace substitute should allow the team to get the most out of him, and the competition between the two players should only elevate their play.

For Ruidíaz, this season is almost certainly his last go-round with the Sounders. Injuries limited him to a mere 1,053 MLS minutes last season, and allowed for Morris to step into the starting striker spot. This year Ruidíaz will need to play his way onto the field, and hopefully a more limited role will allow him to be more durable. In his decreased minutes Seattle’s Designated Player striker still pitched in five goals and one assist, good for a goal or assist every 175.5 minutes.

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To augment that attacking depth, the Sounders let Héber and Montero walk, and added Danny Musovski from RSL and Braudilio Rodrigues from Tacoma Defiance. Rodrigues undeniably played his way into a First Team contract as he set a Defiance scoring record in 2023, with 15 goals and five assists in the MLS NEXT Pro regular season, and adding another two goals in the playoffs. Visa issues kept him out of a good chunk of preseason, and he didn’t pop once he arrived in the way some other players did, but his his dynamic play can translate even a little bit to the MLS level he should be a very useful piece.

Musovski is a very interesting player, who seems to have unfairly developed a less-than-favorable reputation after bouncing out of LAFC and RSL despite a very respectable scoring record and underlying numbers. In 3,114 MLS regular season minutes Musovski has 16 goals and nine assists across parts of four seasons. Despite that production, Musovski has basically played his way into a larger role – if not the starting spot – only to be replaced by a bigger signing and see his role reduced again. By all indications he and the Sounders were able to see eye to eye on what his role will be before he joined the club, and his addition should go a long way to bolster the team’s attack. In 1,203 minutes last season, Musovski had five goals and four primary assists, which would have made him Seattle’s third-most productive attacker.

That’s all to say that in 2024 the Sounders’ attack is deeper and more flexible. The group features players who can be played in a number of positions and roles, providing Schmetzer and his staff with a range of looks and approaches that they can bring to any game or game state. They might not prove to be as prolific as the outrageously dangerous 2014 Sounders, but they should have more goals in them than they did in 2023. When last season was ended by a margin of a single goal, that benchmark might just be enough.