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2016 Western Conference Preview Seattle Sounders

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Clint Dempsey will try to take Sounders, minus Obafemi Martins, plus Jordan Morris, to the MLS Cup this year. Does the math compute?

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle Sounders

2015 Record:

15-6-13 (W-T-L), 4th in the Western Conference

2015 Goals For:

44, 12th in MLS

2015 Goals Against:

36, tied for 1st in MLS

2015 Key Statistic:


Clint Dempsey- 20 Games Started, 1742 minutes played
Obafemi Martins- 20 Games Started, 1805 minutes played

Key Additions:

Jordan Morris, Joevin Jones, Nelson Valdes, Roman Torres

Key Subtractions:

Obafemi Martins, Andy Rose, Gonzalo Pineda, Micheal Azira, Marco Pappa, Lamar Neagle

What they have going for them:


I was all set to write how this was the year Seattle fell apart. The subtraction of Oba. The aging of Deuce. A midfield consisting of Osvaldo Alonso and two unimpressive foreign players. Seattle is ripe for a fall.
Last year, there were two Sounders teams. There was the one they rolled out in April, May, and September: a 4-4-2 with Dempsey and Martins, just like in 2014.


...


Deuce and Oba would get the ball either fed in on short passes or with a fantastic long ball, and proceed to work a 1-2 or a 1-2-1-3-1-2 or something filthy like that. Or like this. Start at 3:00 minutes for the absolute ridiculousness.

...

...

I mean, they wuz jus' clownin' on fools whenever both were in the lineup. Unfortunately, as you can tell from the Key Stats up above, Oba and Dempsey played only about half the season with each other. Clint was hurt, then off at the Gold Cup. Oba was hurt.


That's where the other Sounders team came in.

...

This team, the Oba-less, Deuce-less team, rolled out Andy Rose and Chad Barrett in their place. They were bad. So bad, the 2015 Rapids beat an Oba-less/Deuce-less Sounders at CenturyLink Field for the first time ever. They won 3 and lost 10 (!) between June 6 and August 22nd. By comparison, in the Rapids worst stretch of 2015, they went 4-1-9.


So why am I saying all this in the ‘What they Have Going for them' section? Aren't they Oba-less forever now? Yes. But the Sounders are going to be alright.


Seattle's first match of the season was last week: a Scotia Bank CONCACAF Champions League matchup against defending champions and perennial Liga MX powerhouse Club America. And the Sounders looked great. Clint Dempsey was fantastic, scoring both of the Sounders goals. The midfield moved the ball well. Nelson Valdez created matchup problems. The back line was solid. New addition Joevin Jones at left back looked fantastic.


The Sounders are going from a 4-4-2 to the 4-3-3, with Deuce tucking in on the left, Valdez in the middle, and ‘Stanford Messi' AKA Jordan Morris playing on the the right. While Morris isn't ready to step into Obafemi Martins shoes yet, he should offer the team some good production. Dempsey's decision to train with Seattle and skip USMNT January camp looked like a good one. As long as he can stay healthy and clock north of 2000 minutes, the Sounders will be offensively dangerous.


The midfield team of Alonso, Friberg and Ivanshitz looked convincing against Club America. Friberg disappeared in more than a few games last year, so they'll need him to be a consistent addition to that playmaking core in order to generate goals.


That defense, backed by the ever-excellent Stephen Frei in goal, was the best in MLS in 2015, and they'll actually be better in 2016. Jones and Tyrone Mears are both excellent fullbacks. Chad Marshall was MLS defender of the year in 2014. Brad Evans can defend well, and also can distribute out of the back better than most defenders. They have Zach Scott off the bench. And DP centerback Roman Torres, who tore up his knee in one of his first Sounders matches last year, will be back and healthy soon enough to jump into the lineup. He was an absolute beast for Panama in the Gold Cup.


On top of all that, they add Sigi Schmid, one of the smartest and most consistent coaches in MLS. He's been Coach of the Year in MLS and Coach of the Year in the NCAA; he was an assist to Bora Milutinovic at the 1994 World Cup; he's won the NCAA championship, MLS Cup, the US Open Cup, and the Supporters Shield - twice.
Hate on them all you want - for their hipster chic, or in envy for their packed 40,000 seat stadium, or their deep pockets or garish colors or the sense, real or imagined, that Seattle are favored unfairly by MLS. But this team is deep and talented, and has a chip on it's shoulder from coming up short the past three years.

What's Troubling?


That front line attack might be just as janky in 2016 as it was last year. Clint Dempsey is probably an essential lynch pin for the team, so if he is hurt a bunch, that'd be a problem. He's almost certain to miss four to six games with the USMNT during Copa America Centenario, so the Sounders are going to need to hang tight without him.
Nelson Valdez is 32 years old and on his eleventh club team. Last year he was valuable depth at forward. This year, he needs to step up and be the man. He's never scored double digit goals in a season in his whole 15 year career, but the Sounders may be asking him to this year.


And then there's Jordan Morris' left foot. Or lack thereof. It's been noted in his play with the USMNT and in that first Sounders game that he favors his right foot almost exclusively. That might take you to the NCAA Championship, but if some blogger in Denver Colorado knows that Morris can't shoot with his left, you bet your Aunt Petunia that every MLS player will cheat him a little outside and maybe take away his favored side. Besides that specific detail, this is a guy that comes out of college and takes an attacking spot on a team with MLS Cup hopes. The pressure, it's a lot.


Lastly, I saw one good game for Erik Friberg last week, but I saw a lot of ‘Meh' last year. He can't be ‘Meh'.

2016 Forecast:


It annoys me that I already said that FC Dallas will go to the MLS Cup final in my very first review
because two weeks later, I can't really change my mind. But... yes I can. Seattle are, again, a heavy contender to go to MLS Cup. I think the Sounders will finish 2nd in the Western Conference, and they're my pick to win MLS Cup in 2016.