2012 record: 15-8-11 (56 points); 51 GF / 33 GA (+18 GD)
With less than a week left until opening day, MLSsoccer.com is halfway through previewing each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2012 and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. This is part one of two previewing Seattle's 2013 season. You can find Part 2 here.
Setting the Scene
Less than a week before the start of the season, there remains a fair amount of uncertainty around the Seattle Sounders roster. Fredy Montero and Jeff Parke are the only starters whose fates with the team are already settled in 2013 and Shalrie Joseph and Djimi Traoré have already been brought in, but more big moves could be right on the horizon. All signs point to Christian Tiffert being on his way out after less than half a season, and there’s still a possibility that Levante’s Obafemi Martins will replace him.
Even without Martins, the Sounders have the makings of a potentially lethal attack. Mario Martínez looked like a star in the making and Steve Zakuani appears to be fully recovered from the broken leg he suffered in 2011. The defense will once again be anchored by Michael Gspurning, who now has arguably the best backup in MLS history in Marcus Hahnemann.
While there were times when this looked like it might be building toward a rebuilding year, the Sounders clearly have winning their first MLS Cup on their minds. Just the fact that the Sounders are considering spending millions of dollars to acquire Martins proves as much. Anything less than their first finals appearance will probably be considered a failure.
In and Out
IN: D DeAndre Yedline (01/11 – Homegrown); F/D Eriq Zavaleta (1/17 SuperDraft), M Lamar Neagle (1/27 – trade/Montreal), M Shalrie Joseph (2/19 – trade/Chivas), D Dylan Remick (2/22 – SuperDraft), D Djimi Traore (2/23 – free/)
OUT: GK Andrew Weber (12/3 – option declined), F O’Brian White (12/3 option declined), D/M Mike Seamon (12/3 – option declined), D Jeff Parke (12/3 – traded/Philadelphia), F Fredy Montero (1/21 – loaned/Millonarios)
Star Attraction: Eddie Johnson
How far Johnson has come in a year? Questions about his fitness are long gone, he’s now firmly in the United States national team picture and he’s the leading man on one of MLS’ premier clubs. Now, we get to see what he can do with a full offseason of proper training. Still just shy of 29, Johnson seems poised for his first truly dominant season. Can he deliver?
Unsung Hero: Brad Evans
As weird as it may seem, Evans is still largely underappreciated by the Sounders fanbase. This despite a rock solid four-goal, four-assist season that saw him play all over the field and earn another call-up to the United States national team. Whether or not Joe Fan ever comes to truly appreciate him, it’s clear that Evans will be a major part of any Sounders success because of his ability to be a “glue” player and make sure everything is running smoothly.
Ready for Primetime: Michael Gspurning
Despite ably filling the shoes of a local and national icon by posting one of the greatest statistical seasons in MLS history, Gspurning never got the accolades he seemed to deserve. That was largely a product of his missing about a third of the season with injury. Assuming he stays healthy, Gspurning should enter the goalkeeping elite and may even earn the Austrian national team call-up that has so far proved elusive.
5 days 'til MLS: Can Seattle finally get to MLS Cup?
Storylines to Watch
1. Where will the goals come from? When Montero left, he took his 47 career goals with him. The active franchise goals leader is someone who missed large chunks of the past two seasons: Zakuani, who has 17. In addition to hoping for improved production from Johnson, the Sounders are clearly counting on Zakuani to regain the form that once made him arguably the top attacking wide midfielder in the league. They are also counting on Martínez to flash the form he’s shown on the international stage. The X-factor is that third Designated Player spot. If Martins is added before the close of the current transfer window, that could render any improvements on other parts of the roster pure bonus.
2. Will he stay or will he go? Ever since the Sounders acquired Martínez on loan, there has been speculation that he was looking to greener pastures. Although the Sounders have an option to make the loan a permanent transfer and thus control his future, that probably won’t stop the speculation if he continues to shine with Honduras and fails to play regularly in MLS. Last year, his public complaints didn’t seem to cause much consternation but a year of that could be problematic. On the hand, a content Martinez could make Sounders fans quickly get over the loss of Montero.
3. Can the DPs step up? The not-so-subtle message the Sounders front office sent with both words and actions this offseason was this: The team’s highest-paid players need to be at their best in the biggest games. Rosales appears to be the only DP who will be back this year, a sign of just how important his presence was inside the locker room and on the field. The other DP spots will be filled by Joseph and probably a forward, who as of this writing is still unsigned. Can Joseph turn back the clock to become the player he was a couple years ago? The Sounders seem to think there’s a pretty good chance. The final piece is really impossible to predict. The Sounders promised their fans they’d try to sign someone of the Robbie Keane ilk. No one can fault their effort in pursuing Martins, but they can possibly be faulted for waiting so long to make it happen.
What He Said
"Look at the way we've been playing. We've always been a pretty solid defensive team. Last year we had a goals against average that was pretty darn good. You look this year and we're right on form again. ... We just keep getting better."
– Sounders goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann
If Everything Goes Right
If Zakuani can return to his 2011 form. If Rosales can stay healthy. If Johnson can build on his rebound season. If Gspurning proves he’s the real deal. If the team can finally get their biggest players to perform their best in the biggest games. If these relatively realistic goals can be achieved, finally lifting the MLS Cup is a real possibility.
That may sound funny considering the loss of arguably the team’s best offensive and defensive players, but the depth to overcome them is here. This might just prove to be the best team in Sounders history.