Fredy Montero and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado
Getty Images

2011 Seattle Preview: Last chance for Sounders?

The Tweet and Lowdown:

Montero locked down, depth reinforced, one last go for Keller in serious run in Year 3 – it’s glory or bust for Schmid & Co. in 2011.

Setting the Scene:

Two years, two US Open Cups, two MLS Cup Playoffs berths and two disappointing exits. In Year Three, the Sounders hope to build on those previous successes and challenge for the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup. And the expectations have never been higher.

Steve Zakuani and newly minted Designated Player Fredy Montero lead the offense, which figures to benefit from fully rested DP Alvaro Fernandez. In the back, the starting back line returns while goalkeeper and captain Kasey Keller has also decided to wear the gloves for one final season.

[inline_node:327335]With a strong draft class and a pair of intriguing newcomers—O'Brian White and Erik Friberg—and Seattle look to be deeper than in years past. Depth is paramount for the Sounders in 2011 as the team will once again compete in the Open Cup and qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League.

WATCH: The importance of Evans, Hurtado

Key Changes:

- Players In: O'Brian White (Vancouver), Erik Friberg (BK Häcken, Sweden), Michael Tetteh (UC Santa Barbara), Servando Carrasco (Univ. of California), Josh Ford (Univ. of Connecticut)

- Players Out: Sanna Nyassi (Vancouver), Nate Sturgis (Vancouver), Pete Vagenas (Colorado), Tyrone Marshall (Colorado), Blaise Nkufo (split pending)

Star Attraction: Fredy Montero

The Colombian wizard is back. After it was thought that Montero was entertaining offers abroad, the Sounders opened up the checkbook for their star forward, who became their third Designated Player in the offseason.

The team’s leading scorer in each of the first two seasons, the Barranquilla native has notched 22 goals and 17 assists in 56 league appearances. The MLS Newcomer of the Year in 2009, Montero has the talent and supporting cast to gun for the league’s MVP award in 2011.

Unsung Hero: Kasey Keller

Just how valuable is the veteran backstop? Sounders fans will find out when he’s no longer around. Keller announced that 2011 would be his last season as a professional, sparking much hand-wringing about a potential successor.

Terry Boss is currently entrenched as the backup, but Seattle brought in a highly rated goalkeeper through the draft in UConn’s Ford, who will serve as the No. 3. Until those players assume the reins, Seattle’s fate rests with Keller.

[inline_node:330390]Ready for Primetime: O'Brian White

If preseason returns are any indication, White could be primed for a big year. Coaches and teammates alike have been impressed about the Jamaican’s finishing ability.

After spending the past two seasons with a dysfunctional Toronto FC squad, White came to Seattle through a trade with Vancouver. Initially, he’ll be battling Mike Fucito and Nate Jaqua for minutes off the bench, but with the team parting with Nkufo, Seattle’s FieldTurf surface and injury concerns with Jaqua and Fucito, there could be several opportunities for White to break into the starting lineup.

Storylines to Watch:

Schmid often mentions how important central midfielder Brad Evans’ attacking ability is to the Sounders offense. After injuries to both knees in 2010, the 25-year-old looks ready to partner Osvaldo Alonso once again. Schmid thinks Evans could be a Comeback Player of the Year candidate and would be thrilled to get a handful of goals from him over the course of the season.

Speaking of Alonso, can the club keep both him and Zakuani happy? Both players trained with Everton over the offseason and have been rumored to have interest overseas. Montero got the big-money contract this offseason; will similar treatment be in the offing for these two stars?

But perhaps the most anticipated storyline in the Emerald City is the Cascadia rivalry. With apologies to the LA Galaxy, it’s very clear who Seattle’s rivals are. With Vancouver and Portland entering the league, a rivalry that has roots that spread over decades will be rekindled at the MLS level. The Cascadia matches promise to have unparalleled game-day atmospheres.

What He Said:

“This is the year that if we don’t accomplish some of the things we feel we can accomplish, then you got to start looking at breaking up that core. So this is an important year.”

– Head coach Sigi Schmid

WATCH: Schmid, Zakuani discuss pressure of 2011

If Everything Goes Right:

Seattle have a roster that could challenge for trophies. Two-deep at nearly every position and still young, fans probably expect at least one major trophy this season. Should things break their way, the Sounders could end up with more than that.

<p><a href="//"><img src="//" alt="" width="620" height="100" /></a></p>

Stay connected: Get access to breaking news, videos, and analysis from North America's best soccer reporters via "This Week in MLS" newsletter or using our FREE mobile app.