No team, barring maybe the LA Galaxy, enters each new season with bigger dreams and higher expectations than the Seattle Sounders. That’s what happens when you have the largest crowds in the league by a full five-figure margin, when the ownership behind the team is committed to spending to win, and when the fan base has been conditioned to believe that championships are the only thing that will do. It’s trouble, then, that the Sounders not only do not have a championship to their name in seven seasons, but that their most hated rivals are now the reigning kings of MLS.
That ratchets up the pressure, if only just a little. Now that Obafemi Martins has been sold to China, where the streets are lined with gold for players like him, Seattle will be asking a lot of their newly-signed homegrown superstar, Jordan Morris. Morris is talented, but the pressure will be immense.
The Big Question
Can Morris replace Martins? In 2015, the Sounders found themselves dealing with protracted absences of their two most important attacking players. When healthy and in the lineup together, Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins were one of the most dangerous one-two combinations in MLS history. Now Martins is gone, and the most obvious candidate to replace him is a 21-year old entering his first season as a professional. As with every exciting prospect, the questions that Morris will face most involve consistency, not ability. He’s got the talent, but can he bring it to bear week-in, week-out over the course of a full 34-game season – and beyond?
The shift in mentality for Morris will be the first hurdle. Up until the Sounders accepted the offer for Martins, Morris was tagged as a part-time player, either coming in off the bench when the Sounders needed a spark, or starting occasionally when Dempsey or Martins were injured, fatigued or absent. Can the youngster handle the shift?
As important as the forwards are to the Seattle attack (because they tend to score the goals), the central figure in the team, the man whose presence or lack thereof so often dictated how things went on the field for the Sounders in 2015, is Osvaldo Alonso. The Cuban midfielder is everything a holding midfielder is supposed to be: smart with his movement, quick on his feet, good in the tackle, and accurate with his passes.
When’s he healthy, that is. Alonso missed 15 matches last season, with his absence a contributing factor to a disastrous run that saw Seattle go through a stretch of nine games from which they earned just three points. It was that drought that directly led to the club’s fourth-place finish in the West. Fourth place meant a knockout round game against the Galaxy, and though the Sounders triumphed, playing an extra game with a weary, aging squad probably didn’t help in the next round against FC Dallas.
Rumors swirled that the Sounders were actively looking to trade Alonso last year, which might mean they are ready to move on. For the time being, a fit Alonso is Seattle’s best bet.
From The Dugout
Perennial Cup contenders, Seattle fell short of expectations yet again in 2015 and have made significant changes to their squad in search of a breakthrough. “I think the additions that we made in the summer were positive for us,” said head coach Sigi Schmid. “We also wanted to get a little bit younger – some of that is cap-related for us, for sure. But we think we have some good young players within our organization, within our group, guys that we're bringing into camp, so it's going to be a good mix.”
The rejuvenation will be accelerated by thinning out the roster. “We're probably not going to be as heavy as we were last year with veteran reserve players,” acknowledged Schmid. “There's going to be some, for sure, as we move forward, but we're also at a place where we want to give some young players a chance – just like we gave DeAndre [Yedlin] a chance. If you remember when DeAndre came on board, we had [Adam] Johansson, who was a Swedish national team player, and we felt DeAndre was ready so we cleared the path for him and let him play. So we think we have some guys who are getting close to that same place.”
The changing options may also tempt Schmid, who has used a straightforward 4-4-2 for much of his tenure, into tweaking his formation. “I think we're going to have to make some tactical changes just because of our personnel,” he admitted.
From the Locker Room
Obafemi Martins is gone, but Sounders' key man Clint Dempsey has welcomed new signing Jordan Morris to the club for 2016. “He’s done well when he’s gotten called into the national team,” Dempsey says. “He’s a player who has a bright future.”
Dempsey cites the “energy” and “athleticism” of Morris as his top attributes, and Seattle may especially need those qualities now since Obafemi Martins has accepted an offer from China.
“There’s always room for quality players in a team,” Dempsey says of integrating Morris into the squad, but that doesn’t mean Dempsey doesn’t expect to play a key part himself. “Twelve goals, 10 assists; even though I had some injuries, I had good numbers last year.”
Dempsey also expects to see more from certain players on the squad who came in midseason last year, now that those players will have a full season in Seattle. “Roman Torres was a great pick-up for us,” says Dempsey. “Nelson Valdez, (Andreas) Ivanschitz, you could see what they brought to the team in the playoffs.”
Acclimatizing into an MLS season at full speed isn’t easy, even for seasoned international players, but Dempsey praises his teammates. “Those guys came in and did a great job. I’m looking to get a good preseason with everybody.”
This is Home
- CENTURYLINK FIELD
- CAPACITY: 39,115, expandable to 69,000
- OPENED: July 28, 2002
- LOCATION: Seattle, WA
Fan’s Insider Tip
Glenn White (@justicar): CenturyLink Field (Royal Brougham Park to the local supporters) sits on the edge of the Pioneer Square neighborhood of downtown Seattle. Pioneer Square is filled with bars, restaurants, and plenty of hip and eclectic shopping.
Emerald City Supporters, the largest independent supporter group of Sounders FC, can be found at Fuel Sports Bar, Temple Billiards, and Merchants starting several hours before the match. People in opposing colors typically will not be admitted in those bars on match day. Others will meet up at Fado and the plentiful bars around Pioneer Square. Elysian Fields is popular with visiting supporters.
For prematch food, Tat’s is a great place: grab a Tat’strami (pastrami cheesesteak). Kraken Congee has fantastic pinch buns and lumpia, and drink specials on match day. Since the stadium is literally across the railway tracks from the International District, supporters commonly stop there for noodles, pho, or similar fare both before and after the match.
Exactly one hour prior to kick, the Emerald City Supporters march from Occidental Park to the stadium, singing and chanting the whole way. Many fans join them in this tradition. Against Portland, you can expect upwards of five thousand on the march. Visiting supporters may want to steer clear.
When you’re not at the match, EMP (Experience Music Project) is an exceptional museum of music, science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Pike Place Market is always a good stroll, and the Seattle Underground tour is fun and interesting.