Friday, March 11, 2011

Seattle Sounders 2011 MLS Season Preview

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

In the franchise’s second season, the Seattle Sounders proved that its great 2009 season was no fluke and that this team was a true contender. They didn’t improve on their first year campaign, despite all of the preseason buzz.

The team won its second consecutive U.S. Open Cup, the first club to do so since 1983. However, they couldn’t escape the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs for the second straight time.

The season was salvaged after the team started off to a disappointing record of 4-8-3. Over the team’s final 15 games, the Sounders only lost twice.

The biggest addition to last year’s squad didn’t come from a trade or transfer. Instead, the Sounders will be glad to have defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado return to the lineup after spending the majority of last season on the disabled list.

A valuable piece, Hurtado’s presence should solidify the backline and give the team a bit more presence. What was a huge strength in 2009 dipped in form in 2010. The Sounders gave up the most goals out of all eight playoff teams (35). Hurtado should help them get back to form.

Even more discouraging for Seattle was the offense. Seattle scored 39 goals last season, seventh in the league. Four of the five other playoff teams from the Western Conference—including all three that finished ahead of Seattle—scored more goals than they did. Adding insult to injury was the fact that former Sounder Sebastian Le Toux scored 14 goals with the Philadelphia Union.

Again, the Sounders are hoping an entire season from one of their own players helps the cause. After joining the team after the World Cup last season designated player Blaise Nkufo scored five goals in 11 games and became the first player in the club’s MLS existence to score a hat-trick.

Adding him to the ever dangerous Freddy Montero and Steve Zakuani for a whole season should improve the offense. That being said, the three have had to work a lot of kinks out this preseason, failing to score up until the final game when Montero scored twice.

So that, for now, leaves the midfield as the dependable unit. Alvaro Fernandez, another designated player signing that joined the club after the World Cup, will lead the way in his first full MLS season. He is joined by Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans, two players that, while unsung, have been crucial to the team’s stability and success.

The midfield unit will be rounded out by rookie Michael Tettah and Swedish signing Erik Friberg.

The biggest question coming into this season will be what kind of depth will the Sounders have?

The team lost defenders Tyrone Marshall and Nate Sturgis and midfielders Peter Vagenas and Sanna Nyassi—who scored both goals in the U.S. Open Cup final victory. It is a difficult time to lose guys who have contributed to the team with an upcoming appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League to go with MLS and Open Cup play.

There is also a sense of urgency to make the most of the team’s talents before Nkufo and goalkeeper Kasey Keller, one of the best Americans to ever play the position, retire at the end of the season.

Seattle seems to be relying on the lack of drama from former DP Freddie Ljungberg and whether he will stay or go as well as getting full seasons of production from Hurtado, Nkufo and Fernandez. They have a smart ownership group and have made smart in-season signings, so Seattle should have enough to get through the beginning of the season.

With a loaded schedule though, will the team be able to stay healthy?

It’s hard to imagine Seattle not making the playoffs for a third straight season, but can they get past the first round?

2011 Seattle Sounders commercial. Video from YouTube.

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