>By Evan Ream, with help from the Intern
Last Year: 14-10-6 48 points, 4th in West, 6th Overall. Lost to LA Galaxy 3-1 on aggregate in the Western Conference Semifinals. Won the US Open Cup.
Key Losses: Sanna Nyassi, Nathan Sturgis, Tyrone Marshall
Key Additions: O’Brian White, Eric Friberg
Projected Starting XI: Seattle play a pretty conventional 4-4-2, with the key to their success coming from their flank play. As good as Blaise Nkufo and Fredy Montero were last year, LA completely shut them down in the playoffs by stifling Steve Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi and thus limiting the service to their forwards. Nyassi is gone now, which paves the way for Alvaro Fernandez, who is a better player, but arrived midseason and took a while to adjust to the league to start. Fernandez isn’t as explosive or speedy as Nyassi was, but he is a much smarter player who should be more useful to the Sounders. Centrally, Nathan Sturgis is gone, but Brad Evans returns from injury. Evans is more of an attacking player than Sturgis, which will force Alonso to play more defensively, but they shouldn’t lose anything from this pairing. As far as the back line goes, Seattle gets a huge boost by getting 2009 MLS Defender of the Year finalist Jhon Kennedy Hurtado back from his ACL injury. Hurtado should replace Patrick Ianni, another competent defender, in the starting lineup. Seattle’s outside backs, Leo Gonzalez and James Riley can be suspect defensively, but they are one of the best pair at attacking in the league, something Seattle looks for. Forty-one-year-old Kasey Keller returns as the starting keeper for his final season as a pro. Keller made a few mistakes last year, but was overall solid and definitely not a weak point for this team. Nearly all of Seattle’s difference makers off the bench are forwards with Nate Jaqua and Roger Levesque being the two most used. Michael Fucito is also a capable replacement, but none of these players should be relied on. New signing Eric Friberg is somewhat of an unknown, but he has a solid resume playing in Sweden, a league comparable to MLS.
Prognosis: There is a feeling around Qwest field that despite winning two trophies in two years, this has to be the year Seattle wins a trophy in MLS play. To do this, they will rely on Fredy Montero and Blaise Nkufo to carry the scoring load. Nkufo was decent last year, scoring an amazing hat trick at Columbus, but he was invisible in too many games. Seattle must utilize him in order to be successful. This team’s starters rival that of another team in the league, but it is the quality of their bench players that would seem to determine how the team fares this year, as they are involved in many competitions once again. Most of these aforementioned players are either career backups or enigmas; I don’t think Seattle even know what they have. Seattle look to be a top four team, but they could struggle with depth issues as well as if Fredy Montero slumps. Look for Steve Zakuani to have a season for the ages on the left side; he could very well be MLS’ most dangerous player this year.
The Intern’s Take: Anything associated with Drew Carey, obviously must be taken extremely seriously, and the Sounders are no exception. The Sounders drastically improved in the second half of last season, losing only twice between July 11 and the last regular season game on October 23, and will be looking to keep that momentum going through the coming MLS season. During that stretch, Alvaro Fernandez joined the team and although he played limited minutes, getting only four starts, his impact was clearly noticeable and he should be able to play a much more prominent role this year and help the Sounders compete in the playoffs again. Unfortunately, for Seattle, I think the loss of Sanna Nyassi, who scored both of Seattle’s goals in their Open Cup Final win over the Crew, hurts the team offensively. I thought that the trio of Nkufo, Nyassi, and Zakuani was one of the most entertaining groups to watch play together last year, and that they were able to support Montero very effectively. Nyassi’s speed will be missed definitely be missed by Seattle this year. That being said, I am excited to see more of Fernandez this year and how he will fit in, especially offensively. I expect Seattle to continue their two-year tradition of improving upon the previous season’s record and that they will once again be playing in the post season. The team also has a great (and very realistic) chance to win the Open Cup for the third year straight, a feat that has not been accomplished since the 1960s.