After a short offseason shaking off the MLS Cup failure in 2017, the Sounders are back with seven new players to start the MLS season Sunday.
Reversal of fortunes is a phenomenon to which most can relate. None can relate more than the Seattle Sounders, who 364 days after defeating Toronto FC on penalty kicks at BMO Field in the 2016 MLS Cup, were soundly beaten on the same field by the same team for the same trophy.
The Sounders have brought back most of the framework that allowed them the rare feat of traveling to consecutive MLS Cups to search for a third trip.
Coach Brian Schmetzer spoke this week of the lasting disappointment of a failure on that frigid night in Ontario.
“It served as a good goal for Toronto after they lost to us in 2016,” Schmetzer said. “We will use it the same way. Last season was a good season in many ways, but that sickness in our stomachs is still there.
“It’s because of one contest, one match. (Keeper Stefan Frei) had a 13-game shutout streak. We lost two of the last 18 matches. Clint Dempsey had a resurgence. We were proud of many parts of last season. Even though (we had success), that emptiness is still there, and we will use that to fuel our season.”
The MLS start of 2017 was not kind to the Sounders, who stumbled out to a 2-5-4 mark. Weary from a short, six-week off-season after a brutal campaign, the Sounders were unprepared to face teams gunning for the reigning champ. Eventually, the club found its rhythm.
While the emptiness Schmetzer described will linger, a similar slow start in league play could well take place. Trophy or no, Seattle’s off-season lasted 43 days (Dec. 10 to Jan. 22), which hardly allows a body to recover from the strains of an MLS season that, including playoffs, lasted nine months.
The toll already has commenced. Jordan Morris had a season-ending ACL tear in his right knee in El Salvador Feb. 22, near the end of the season’s first competition in CONCACAF Champions League. Osvaldo Alonso revealed Wednesday he expects to be out until mid-March, while Kelvin Leerdam, Roman Torres and Victor Rodriguez have all been similarly hobbled.
Given such roster stress, it would not be unlikely for the Sounders to have difficulties early. Fixture congestion with the Champions League will continue; a 4-0 Sounders victory over Santa Tecla Thursday night means that they will host Liga MX giant CD Guadalajara Wednesday, three days after Seattle’s season opener Sunday against expansion franchise Los Angeles FC (2 p.m., ESPN).
A key roster question is who will replace the goal-supplying talents of Joevin Jones. The Trinidadian left back dished out 13 assists last season before signing with SV Darmstadt in Germany.
Still, new arrivals may help distribute the burdens of playing time more evenly.
Center back Kim Kee-hee from the Chinese Super League, midfielder Magnus Wolff Eikrem from Malmo FF in Sweden, and the depth signings of outside backs Jordan McCrary and Waylon Francis may help Seattle remain competitive while first-choice players are out.
Only two other teams have been to at least three MLS Cups in a row. The New England Revolution were finalists from 2005-07, but never hoisted the trophy. The Sounders would rather emulate the success of D.C. United in the league’s first years. The Black and Red went to the finals four times from 1996-99, winning the title three times.
Seattle seeks to be the third team to accomplish the feat. The high-profile acquisitions have gambling outlet Oddsharks.com listing the Sounders as No. 3 to become MLS champion, trailing Toronto and Atlanta, and first in the Western Conference.
Best two out of three?
Tyler Miller – Selected #1 in 2017 MLS expansion draft by LAFC
Joevin Jones – Out of contract, signed with SV Darmstadt in the German second division
Oniel Fisher – Traded to D.C. United for $50,000 in general allocation money
Brad Evans – Out of contract, signed with Sporting Kansas City as a free agent
Aaron Kovar – Loaned to LAFC
Callum Mallace – Out of contract
Zach Mathers — Cut Friday
Calle Brown – A free transfer from Houston Dynamo
Waylon Francis – Traded from Columbus Crew for $50,000 in general allocation money
Jordan McCrary – A free transfer from Toronto FC II
Kim Kee-hee – A free transfer from Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League
Handwalla Bwana – Signed as a Homegrown Player from the University of Washington
Alex Roldan – Drafted in the first round of 2018 MLS SuperDraft, signed Feb. 13
Magnus Wolff Eikrem – A free transfer from Malmo FF in Sweden’s Allsvenskan
Goalkeepers – Stefan Frei, Bryan Meredith
Defenders – Kelvin Leerdam, Nouhou, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Tony Alfaro
Midfielders – Osvaldo Alonso, Jordy Delem, Nicolas Lodeiro, Lamar Neagle, Victor Rodriguez, Cristian Roldan, Harry Shipp, Gustav Svensson, Henry Wingo
Forwards – Will Bruin, Clint Dempsey, Seyi Adekoya, Jordan Morris*
*Out for 2018 with ACL tear