2019 Seattle Sounders Season Preview: Three Big Questions

Ruidiaz and Seattle Sounders
Main Photo: Raul Ruidiaz celebrates one of his two goals against the Portland Timbers during the MLS Cup Playoffs on Nov. 8, 2018. Photo courtesy of Mike Fiechtner/Seattle Sounders FC Communications.

Editorial (Feb. 13, 2019) — Last year was a rollercoaster for the Seattle Sounders FC.

After beginning the season on the low end of the spectrum, the Sounders found their footing in the second-half of the MLS season. Raúl Ruidíaz took the reins up top, scoring 10 goals in 14 regular-season matches. Kim Kee-hee figured out ways to communicate with his fellow defensemen, despite a language barrier.

2019 Seattle Sounders Season Preview: Three Big Questions

After the sudden turnaround — which included a nine-game winning streak and 11-match unbeaten streak — Seattle narrowly slid into the playoffs. However, the Cinderella season ended early. Against the Portland Timbers, Seattle fell to their rivals on penalty kicks.

So far this offseason, Seattle has been quiet.

The Sounders have made under-the-radar signings. However, the team did grab some attention with the acquisition of Jonathan Campbell. After spending three years with the Chicago Fire, Campbell was traded to Seattle on Dec. 28, 2018.

Seattle also signed Homegrown goalkeeper Trey Muse. Meanwhile, the team traded defender Waylon Francis to the Columbus Crew SC while third-string goalkeeper Calle Brown signed with Loundon United FC in the USL.

However, that’s not to say Seattle isn’t shopping around for another talent to add. This past offseason, Jordy Delem and Kelvin Leerdam were granted Green Cards, supplying them permanent resident status in the United States. That frees up two international slots for Seattle.

There’s a chance Seattle can put that to good use. Now, here are three major questions that are poised for the Sounders heading into the 2019 season.

Who will be the starting right back?

Don’t worry about the left, Sounders fans.

Leerdam has the left back spot for Seattle solidified. In the middle — at centerback — Chad Marshall will likely be a starter, while Kim Kee-hee earned his stripes last season. However, there could be an alternating decision with Campbell included in the mix.

That still leaves right back up for grabs.

Last season, the Sounders picked up Brad Smith on loan from A.F.C. Bournemouth. The loan will extend until this summer, expiring in July. However, Bournemouth had an option to recall Smith back in January, but didn’t take the option. Smith seemingly came into the Sounders and swiped the starting role from Nouhou.

However, Smith suffered a hamstring injury early on. Nouhou was thrusted back into the starting role. He finished the most recent season with 23 starts in 28 regular-season appearances. Meanwhile, Smith only made six appearances.

Seattle Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey admitted that the spot was open. One of the reasons why Francis was traded to Columbus was because the competition narrowed down to Smith and Nouhou.

“Waylon was a guy that we brought in to compete for the starting left back job,” Lagerwey said. “As it played out, he wasn’t able to win that job, so we looked to recoup our investment. We feel like we’re really strong at left back. We have Brad Smith and Nouhou, two guys that are starting level players and have started in this league.”

It’s up to head coach Brian Schmetzer to make a decision early in the season. In Seattle’s recent preseason contest against the Houston Dynamo, Smith earned the starting nod.

Who will be the captain of this team?

Losing Osvaldo Alonso was a big blow for the Sounders.

Despite being 33-years-old, Alonso is still at the height of his game. The Cuban’s departure was the second veteran presence to depart, as Clint Dempsey announced his retirement midway through last season. Both players were captains and leaders.

However, Seattle does have a crop of veterans.

Even younger players have taken the reins and even donned the captain’s armband. Cristian Roldan, entering his fourth season, has taken on a bigger role than he has in previous years. Also, his experience with the U.S. Men’s National Team has given him a broader perspective of the game.

However, it’s likely that the main leadership responsibilities of the team will be split between Chad Marshall and Nicolas Lodeiro. Marshall is coming into his 16th year of professional soccer, spending his whole career in MLS. Meanwhile, Lodeiro is entering his third season with the Sounders. However, upon his addition, he made an immediate impact.

Seattle’s leaders need to establish the team’s identity. Plenty of players on the roster were there when Seattle lifted the MLS Cup trophy in 2016 and made it back to the MLS Cup final in 2017. The Sounders also have a record to keep, with the club making the playoffs since its creation.

What impact will Jordan Morris have?

Seattle Sounders fans have been waiting to hear these words.

Jordan Morris is back.

After tearing his ACL in the preseason last year, right before the CONCACAF Champions League action began, Morris spent the 2018 year rehabbing his knee and preparing for his comeback. Now, that time has come. Morris even was invited to the U.S. Men’s National Team’s January camp to observe.

The 24-year-old joined the Sounders in 2016. In his first season, he won the MLS Rookie of the Year title, given his 32 starts in 34 appearances. Adding 12 goals and four assists helped Morris’ case to win, too. In 2017, his numbers went down. He only scored three goals and provided one assist. He battled minor injuries, which dwindled him down to 22 starts in 23 regular-season matches.

Not being on the pitch last year certainly hurt the team. However, Morris is going to have to do a lot of catching up. He’ll likely be partnered up top with Ruidíaz. There’s a slight language barrier there too, as Ruidíaz only speaks Spanish and little English. Morris also needs to find a connection with Víctor Rodríguez.

The Spanish midfielder only featured a few times with Morris, as he joined the Sounders in August 2017.

Morris is going to have a lot of catching up to do and will likely take part in extra trainings with his teammates. However, Morris has a lot to prove. His numbers were down in 2017 and he looked to have that rebound year in 2018. However, his ACL tear cut his season short before it even started.

Morris is going to be hungry for goals. He’s going to be dedicated to winning, as he got a taste of it in 2016.

Last Word: Sounders will be contenders

Expect that consecutive playoff streak to continue.

The Sounders are returning a lot of their players from last season. Add in a healthy Jordan Morris, Handwalla Bwana — who missed a chunk of last season to injury — and Brad Smith and this team can be lethal. Losing Alonso is going to hurt, but there are veteran leaders that can stand up and compete.

As for filling in that spot as a defensive midfielder, there’s a chance that Gustav Svensson can slide back and then Harry Shipp could take his place. There’s no shortage of depth on Seattle’s roster.

And, again, the team can always look to pick up an international player. Remember, last season, Kim Kee-hee wasn’t signed until the middle of February. The Sounders have time to make another signing happen.

Expect Ruidíaz to have another big season. If he can score 10 goals in 14 games, imagine what he can do with a full-season. Also, if Rodríguez can stay healthy for a whole year, that tandem can prove to be vicious for opposing defenders.

Needless to say, this is an organization, too, that has a big chip on their shoulders. They have to come out of the gate with power, not falling down the table like they did last year. Also, the Sounders have an emotional tie to their season. With the passing of Sigi Schmid in December, the Sounders have an emotional purpose.

They’re going to make their former coach proud.

Main Photo: Raul Ruidiaz celebrates one of his two goals against the Portland Timbers during the MLS Cup Playoffs on Nov. 8, 2018. Photo courtesy of Mike Fiechtner/Seattle Sounders FC Communications.

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