SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 10: Mauro Rosales #10 of the Seattle Sounders FC reacts after missing a goal against Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink Field on September 10, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. Real Salt Lake defeated the Sounders 2-1. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
After three straight years with U.S. Open Cup as the only hardware, the Sounders now have their eyes fixed on bigger prizes writes Sounder at Heart's Dave Clark.
2011 record (finish): 18-7-9
Key additions: Eddie Johnson, Adam Johansson, Michael Gspurning, Christiean Sivebaek
Key losses: Kasey Keller, James Riley, Eric Friberg, Tyson Wahl, Mike Fucito
Projected starting XI: 4-1-3-2 (L-R) Gspurning; Gonzalez, Hurtado, Parke, Johansson; Alonso; Fernandez, Evans, Rosales; Johnson, Montero
Bold prediction: Adrian Hanauer will sell a Designated Player to a better league during the season. Somehow this will actually make the team better.
Biggest fear: Another major injury. The traumatic lower leg fracture of Steve Zakauni still sits in many fans' minds. After Mauro Rosales missed time at the end of the season it was made clear the Sounders need more threats than just Fredy Montero if they want to win more than just another Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
Some MLS teams struggle with building the depth just to compete in the 34-match regular season with tens of thousands of travel miles. For the Sounders, this has yet to be a concern, the goals are bigger than to just survive the weekly grind and make a playoff run. Instead Sigi Schmid and the front office look at every trophy like it is the key to their very survival. One should expect the Sounders to make a deep run in the CCL and the Open Cup again, but don't overlook the main goal.
This is probably a sligthly less deep team than they've had in the past few years. But if everything clicks the No. 1 offense of 2011 will be even more potent. With Zakuani coming back, a desperate-to-resurrect-his-career Eddie Johnson, more possession from the defensive line and smattering of near international quality signings from Sweden, Denmark and Austria the Sounders will go toe-to-toe with the LA Galaxy. That's the measuring stick and the only team clearly better than Seattle in their short MLS life.
Western Conference supremacy will be difficult, but the Sounders have a bit of a home field advantage over LA, hosting their nemesis twice. Who finishes with that No. 1 seed should come down to whether Sigi's side can capitalize on that scheduling favor. For all of Seattle's success in non-league knockout matches there is still a major hurdle of the MLS Cup Playoffs. They have yet to advance past their first round in three tries. No matter the level of regular season and non-MLS success the Sounders have there will be many who will find another first round loss a fire-able offense.
- Dave Clark, Sounder at Heart