SEATTLE – As the Seattle Sounders gear up for the start of their 2019 MLS campaign, it’s fair to say they have a point to prove.
They’re healthy and coming off a three-month offseason – the longest the club has had in three years, on the heels of a 2018 campaign that at one point saw them down seven starters due to injuries. There are no Concacaf Champions League obligations to juggle. Jordan Morris is back after missing all of 2018 with a torn ACL. Star striker Raul Ruidiaz will be in the fold for his first full MLS campaign.
Add all of that up, and Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey says he feels as though his team is set up to not only to buck its trend of starting slow and getting hot late – as they’ve done each of the past three seasons – but to achieve much loftier goals than that.
“We’re rested, we’re ready, we’re healthy,” Lagerwey told reporters at Seattle’s club media day at CenturyLink Field on Thursday. “We’re ready to get after it. We’re ready to come out of the gates [strong]. We’re very excited to go out and get this thing and contend from day one.
“We need to win now. We need to win the title. And, look, you start every year saying that, but that’s how we set the team up. We believe we have a real chance to contend for the title this year.”
That bullishness isn’t limited to Lagerwey.
This Sounders roster is stacked with the most talent, arguably, since the club’s Supporters’ Shield-winning campaign of 2014. Ruidiaz and Morris are a part of the reason for optimism. But star playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro, now-healthy winger Victor Rodriguez and a defense that ranked as one the league’s best in 2018 are all additional reasons that Sounders camp has had a ‘counting-the-days-until-the-season-starts’ vibe for most of preseason.
“I think that we started off the last couple years a little bit slow, so we want to change that routine,” Morris said. “We’re a very good team and especially coming out at home the first two games, we want to get six points out of those games. There’s no pressure but we’re ready for the opportunity to start better this year.”
Getting a result in the hostile confines of CenturyLink is never an easy task for anyone, let alone an expansion team making their league debut, but the Sounders also know these things can go. Last season, Seattle hosted LAFC in their first-ever MLS match and were shocked by the visitors, who bagged a hard-fought 1-0 victory, the first of three consecutive league losses at the start of the Sounders' campaign.
Should a repeat of that scenario occur on Saturday, the Sounders are well aware that the whispers about those slow starts are likely to surface. But a positive result against FCC, midfielder Cristian Roldan said, would also speak to a larger theme he’s hoping to see the team emphasize in 2019.
“One thing I think that we can get better at is our home games,” Roldan said. “We have two home games in a row as our first two games and I think those are must-wins. I think everybody went through the ups and downs and they don’t want to go through that [again]. In the end, it’s personal motivation. It’s the team and the organization coming together and saying, ‘Look, we need to hold ourselves to a [higher] standard.’”