Seattle Sounders - goal celebration - high fives

As the 2021 MLS season inches closer, former Seattle Sounders winger Steve Zakuani feels that his old team has reason for concern.

Seattle made MLS Cup in 2020, of course, but Zakuani pointed to veteran departures and Jordan Morris’ ACL injury as compounding factors that create questions of whether a dip in results awaits.

“There’s a lot of question marks, I think a lot more than you would like for a team of this caliber with this kind of expectations,” Zakuani said on Extratime. “I don’t think the Sounders have gotten better. I think they’ll be good. How good? It’s tough to tell.”

The Sounders have brought in several MLS veterans, including striker Fredy Montero and midfielder Kelyn Rowe, plus brought Joao Paulo back to strengthen their midfield. But otherwise, Seattle haven’t made a marquee move that one might expect from a club of their stature.

A high-impact transfer might come in the summer, as Seattle have typically opted for under general manager and director of soccer Garth Lagerwey. Namely, Zakuani sees the need for someone to fill Morris’ role and replace leadership that players like right back Kelvin Leerdam and midfielder Gustav Svensson provided.

“I can be as biased as I want, but I’d be lying if I said they got better,” Zakuani said. “This is not a better team than they were last year. I think changes had to be made, but you’ve lost experience.”

Seattle could lean more on young players, something that head coach Brian Schmetzer has done sparingly while leading the club to MLS Cups in 2016 and 2019. That approach can have its drawbacks, Zakuani feels, given the learning curve and growing pains that sometimes follow. Homegrowns like midfielder Danny Leyva and forward Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez are promising US youth internationals, but their first-team opportunities have been limited.

“The reason this club is held in such regard is because they win,” Zakuani said. “The Sounders win, the Sounders are always there, they get trophies. First it was Open Cups, then it was never missing the playoffs and now it is MLS Cups. 

“So you can play a bunch of youth players, it won’t change what we want as fans. We want the team to be winning, and so that’s the tough thing in MLS. Can you do both? I’m not sure it can be done consistently.”

For more from Zakuani and the Extratime hosts, check out the entire episode here.