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Why the Sounders will lift trophies this year

The Sounders should compete for trophies, it’s what they do. Here’s why we think they will.

Last Updated
5 min read
Stefan Frei holding two MLS Cup trophies. / Mike Russell FOTO

The Seattle Sounders compete for trophies. It’s what they do. Appearing in Finals and making serious runs at silverware have been hallmarks of the club’s time in MLS, playing in 11 finals; finishing top four in the Western Conference in all but one season; and hoisting four U.S. Open Cups, two MLS Cups, a Supporters' Shield, and one CONCACAF Champions League trophy during their 15 MLS seasons. As such, 2023 was something of a rarity: a season in which the Sounders didn’t reach a final or seriously contend for the Supporters' Shield.

This year should be different. The team was good last year, and they should be even better this year. They’ve made additions to strengthen an already very impressive defense, effectively swapped Héber – a historically underperforming backup striker on a big-time salary – for a younger, more flexible, and more reliable Danny Musovski who’s playing with a chip on his shoulder; and while certified club legend Nico Lodeiro has left after seeming to lose some sharpness the Sounders have filled his DP spot with their record signing Pedro De la Vega.

The Sounders should be in a position to return to glory in 2024. It would be fitting, the 50th anniversary of the club’s founding, for them to add to the trophy case and hang some banners. What’s left is the how and why. Well, let us take care of that for you.

What's bigger than a breakout?

Josh Atencio won Sounder at Heart’s Sounders Breakout Player of the Year in our end-of-year awards for last season, along with winning Young Player of the Year. It was the second time we had bestowed upon him both of those honors, actually, earning the same pair of awards in 2021.

Having already broken out twice, Atencio comes into 2024 as the clear starter alongside João Paulo in Seattle’s midfield. The team seems set to lean even further into a system that made the Sounders very hard to play with and suits Atencio’s growing skill set well. I believe we’ll see the next stage in his evolution, that could see him become one of MLS’s elite players. I expect him to improve in all areas of his game, but most notably to add to his one goal and one assist from last year as Seattle shakes the attacking struggles that plagued them in 2023.


Defense wins championships

It largely went under the radar last year, but the Sounders had a truly elite defense. They were tied for the fewest goals allowed (32), had the most clean sheets (14), and allowed the fewest amount of non-penalty xG in the league (31.4). Every starter in defensive positions (DMs, defenders, and goalkeeper) are expected to be back this season. Not only that, the Sounders didn’t trade away Xavier Arreaga (yet) and added Nathan, a Brazilian CB who last played with San Jose.

If Seattle can figure out how to score more goals at the other end of the field, it could alleviate some of the pressure the defense experienced last season. With better game-states to manage, this group could put up even more suffocating performances in 2024.


Paulie and the prodigies

Six of the previous SaH Young Player of the Year winners are on the current roster. Four of them are in the starting XI (there's also a coach on the bench that earned the nod). Those four are the known quantities.

This year's midfield and fullback depth is going to be coming from players who are 24 and younger. Outside of Léo Chú, they're from this system and grew up in this area. They walked the same fields you did dreaming of winning at Lumen. They've tasted it. A couple know that they can earn a foreign contract. Others know that they can be the next Morris or Atencio with big bucks at home.

Finally there's Paul Rothrock. Paulie is a dude that can own a fashion photo shoot, thread the throughball or command senior players to stay positionally aware. Cristian Roldan expected a big season from the Rock. If that happens from these prodigies the team can be rested enough for a Shield and deep enough for a secondary trophy like the Open Cup🤞 or Leagues Cup.


The power of narrative

The Sounders aren’t the only team celebrating an anniversary in 2024; they’re not even the only team celebrating a 50th anniversary. But this 50th anniversary does feel different from the others. The Sounders have spent a lot more time being the Sounders than the other teams marking their 50th anniversaries – the Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes – have spent under their current titles or in their present iterations.

The Sounders of 2024 play under the guidance of lifelong Sounder Brian Schmetzer, who first joined the team as a player in 1980. He’s spent the last 22 years helping to lead the team in some capacity, and could further cement his place among MLS’s elite coaches with an addition to the trophy cabinet. There’s also the chance of Nico Lodeiro’s replacement in the No. 10 jersey replicating his feat of lifting a cup in his first season.


Tactical flexibility

The Sounders have a pretty clear style they like to play. Win duels and work hard, stay defensively organized, and keep the ball. I don't suspect any of that will change, but MLS teams play such different styles and have different strengths and weaknesses. Last year, Schmetzer seemed to keep the same lineup when things were going well. It worked until it didn't. I'm optimistic that the coaching staff has learned some lessons from this.

The Sounders have developed young players and brought in other attacking talent this offseason that should give the team more tactical flexibility – allowing Schmetzer to choose a starting lineup that will help the team take on a specific opponent. If their coaching staff can choose the right players for their opponent and help the team make slight tactical adjustments (and of course stay healthy!), the rest of MLS should be nervous.


Mercer Island Messi is at forward

The only season that Jordan Morris was compared to Messi and started the majority of the season at forward the club won their first MLS Cup (2016). Now, Morris is a more well-rounded player thanks to his time on the wing (learning defense, improving that left foot, having a passing tree that wasn't a single branch). He's also shown he's a good to great forward.

A one-time finalist for MVP Jordan has shown that he's capable of national attention while playing in the upper left. He's also capable of scoring at an impressive strike rate as the lone forward. His goals per match at forward was .70. Drop that match against KC? It's still .41. If he doesn't exploit an awful team he may only score 13 goals this year. That would be poor. Good news for Jordan Morris fans? MLS has a few awful teams. Let's say Jordan splits that difference and nets 17 goals in MLS play. Not only will that open space for the attacking band, that will put a spotlight on the now-veteran.