2017 Record: 14-9-11, 53 points
Coach: Brian Schmetzer
Key Additions: DEF Waylon Francis (Columbus Crew SC), MID Magnus Wolff Eikrem (Malmo), MID Handwalla Bwana (Homegrown Player)
Key Departures: DEF Oniel Fisher (D.C. United), MID Brad Evans (Sporting Kansas City), and FWD Joevin Jones (Darmstadt)
The Big Question: Was an offseason of inaction the proper reaction?
Some clubs after losing MLS Cup like to blow things up. Others like to steady the ship, doubling down on the strategies and principles that got them there. Then there is the Seattle Sounders who opted to do nothing. Well, nothing might be a bit of a harsh term. The club did pick up Eikrem from Malmo for depth and by all indications Bwana looks like he may be a difference-maker late in matches. But other than a couple of small moves and saying goodbye to Joevin Jones and Brad Evans the club has been rather quiet this offseason.
Now things may change in the coming days (Niko Moreno of Sounders at Heart has the club looking at Roderick Miller while Shanghai Shenua FC has South Korean defender Kim Kee-Hee coming to Seattle) but for the moment it looks as if Seattle stood their ground this offseason. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering the side was rather busy last summer and they will be bringing back Jordan Morris and Oswaldo Alonso fully fit.
Still, at a time when it looks like the rest of the Western Conference has gotten better and with LAFC looking like the second coming of Atlanta United FC one has to wonder if a quiet offseason is really what the Sounders needed.
Area to keep an eye on: Defensive Midfield
The Sounders have three spots for two players with Cristian Roldan, Gustav Svensson, and Osvaldo Alonso all contending for two spots. Barring some sort of change of heart Schmetzer will likely pencil in Roldan for one of those two positions. His speed and passing make him one of the best midfielders in Major League Soccer and an excellent linking partner for Nicolas Lodeiro in the attack. That leaves Svensson and Alonso a battle between a player who played quite well for the Sounders down the stretch and is likely World Cup bound versus one of the most consistent midfielders in MLS history. It is a nice problem for the Sounders to have but considering how important chemistry at the position eventually Schmetzer will have to choose one over the other.
The good news is that it looks like both will get ample playing time to start the season. With the Sounders set to begin Champions League play tonight against Santa Tecla (7pm PST, Univision Deportes.com) as well as U.S. Open Cup matches, and Svensson possibly heading to Russia both players should get the chance to stake their claim to the position. Injuries will also certainly play a role in this battle. Alonso managed to play just 19 games last season and will miss tonight’s match against Tecla due to a knee issue.
Schmetzer over the past season and a half has liked to use the first half of a season as a time to test formations, strategies, and lineups. Look for him to take a similar stance with the Svensson/Alonso this year.
Outcome: First in the Western Conference
Despite not making too many moves in the offseason Seattle weren’t exactly at a place where they needed to make many changes. Such is the case when a side has been as successful as they have in recent years. With Stefan Frei in goal and a solid spine with Lodeiro, Roldan, Roman Torres, Jordan Morris, and some guy named Clint Dempsey this is a side that looks primed for another deep run in the MLS Cup Playoffs. What will be interesting to see is how Schmetzer manages minutes as the season progresses. With Torres, Lodeiro, and possibly Svensson all off to Russia that will impact a side that is getting a bit older in certain spots on the field. 2018 will be a real test for younger players like Roldan, Jordy Delem, and Seyi Adekoya. That being said, there are very few sides with the quality of the depth of the Sounders and even in a tough Western Conference that should be enough to see at the top of the standings come the end of the regular season.
As for the playoffs that may be an entirely different beast. Remember only two teams have ever made the MLS Cup more than twice in a row-D.C. United from 1996 to 1999 and the New England Revolution from 2005 to 2007. It is not an easy task to play that many games in a row for that many seasons in a row. That is not to say that Seattle cannot do it. This collection of players have proven themselves to quite resilient when faced against adversity. It is just a matter of whether some of the younger players can take that next step when the games matter most.