TUKWILA, Wash. – The Seattle Sounders are well aware of the narrative at this point.
They know they’ve stumbled out of the gate in each of their last three MLS campaigns, only to embark on second-half surges that have improbably salvaged their playoff spot each time.
They also know that pattern makes for dangerous living, and that there will come a year when one of those now-patented second-half tears won’t be able to save them. As the Sounders kicked off their preseason with the club’s first official training session of 2019 at Starfire Sports Complex on Tuesday, head coach Brian Schmetzer cited bucking that trend as one of his team’s foremost objectives.
“We don’t want to start slow,” Schmetzer said. “I think it’s important for this franchise to remove that moniker of starting slow.”
In theory, the Sounders should be set up to do just that.
They finally have a full offseason under their belt to recalibrate after lengthy and demanding playoff runs in both 2016 and 2017. They also have, on paper, what appears to be one of the league’s more talent-laden rosters, highlighted by Nicolas Lodeiro, Raul Ruidiaz, and the return of 24-year-old forward Jordan Morris, who missed all of the 2018 MLS season with a torn ACL.
As such, Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey told reporters on Tuesday that he feels confident in the state of his club as it currently stands, even with an open Designated Player spot at his disposal.
“We’re at the mature part of our cycle,” Lagerwey said. “We’ve talked about how this is our prime. We have Lodeiro and Ruidiaz to build the team around under contract for multiple years, we have most of our other starters in their primes – this is something where we’re really excited about the season.”
That news should come as no surprise from the famously methodical Lagerwey, who has historically been much more active in the summer. Lodeiro and Ruidiaz are both examples of marquee players Lagerwey opted to bring in midseason, despite plenty of chatter from the club’s fan base and the national media questioning why he didn’t make moves sooner.
Both of those moves turned out to pay dividends, and given that the Sounders should ostensibly be fully rested and healthy going into their 2019 campaign, Lagerwey said he’s likely to employ that measured approach once again.
However, the Seattle GM also didn’t entirely rule out the possibility of at least some roster movement between now and the club’s March 2 season-opener against expansion side FC Cincinnati at CenturyLink Field.
“I’d say we’re always eager to bring guys in,” Lagerwey said. “We always want to get better and we always want to improve the squad. But I’d say we’ve got a lot of confidence in this group that finished with the best half-season in MLS history [in 2018]. We feel like it’s a solid foundation. We feel like we’re set up to succeed from day one here.
“We’re going to be active, but we’re going to be active in trying to bring in really elite players,” he added. “We don’t feel like we’re in a position where we need to compromise and take chances. We have a real steady squad and a consistent group and that allows us to be patient.”