On Tuesday morning, it starts all over again.
The start of training camp will have an entirely different feel this time around for the Seattle Sounders, who are the defending MLS Cup champions.
The bulk of the club’s nucleus returns, including goalkeeper Stefan Frei, the MLS Cup most valuable player; midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, a late designated player signee from Uruguay; and forward Jordan Morris, the league’s reigning rookie of the year.
And, of course, after taking over Sigi Schmid, who was fired in July, Brian Schmetzer returns for his full season as the Sounders’ coach.
Here are four issues to be monitored throughout training camp:
1. DEUCE SIGHTING
This winter, the likes of United States men’s national team coach Bruce Arena and Seattle Sounders general manager Garth Lagerway have publicly expressed optimism that Clint Dempsey is close to returning to full-time action.
Pinpointing when is still a ways away.
Sidelined by an irregular heartbeat since August that required surgery, the 33-year-old Dempsey has been back at the Sounders’ training facility since early December doing individual work.
But the five-time MLS All-Star missed the final 16 matches of the season, including all of the postseason.
And earlier this month, Dempsey was unable to attend the U.S. national team training camp. Arena said he was hopeful Dempsey would be ready for U.S. World Cup qualifiers in March.
With Dempsey’s future still up in the air, the Sounders made a trade with Houston for veteran Will Bruin in late December. Bruin played forward in 31 matches for the Dynamo last season, scoring four goals.
2. NEW STARTERS
When the regular season opens March 4, the Sounders will likely have a new face in the starting lineup at every level.
As mentioned previously, until Dempsey’s future has been set, expect to see a lot of Bruin up front with Morris now that veteran Nelson Valdez has been released.
Seattle is loaded with options in the midfield, even with Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan and Lodeiro set as starters.
That leaves newcomer Harry Shipp, acquired in a trade with Montreal this offseason after being a rookie-of-the-year finalist with Chicago in 2014, and Alvaro Fernandez competing for that final midfielder spot.
The club is high on Aaron Kovar, who missed much of the second half of last season with a broken collarbone. Kovar has spent the winter months training with Scottish club Hibernian FC.
And Evans will likely fill the right-back spot vacated by Tyrone Mears who was also released in December. Evans was one of four Sounders invited to the national-team camp in January.
3. CHAMPIONS CHANGE
On Monday, CONACAF announced it was changing the format of its Champions League tournament by eliminating the group-stage round and replacing it with a pair of knockout tournaments.
The new format is effective immediately, and will impact the Sounders, who are part of the 2017-18 field.
The first knockout tournament will involve 16 teams from the Caribbean and Central America that runs from August through October.
The winner of that tournament will join 15 clubs from MLS, Liga MX, the champion of the Caribbean Club Champions and the overall champions from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama in the second stage that runs from February through May of 2018.
Each knockout-round pairing will feature home-and-home matches, with the team that scores the most aggregate goals advancing.
The winner of the second knockout tournament will represent CONCACAF in the FIFA World Cup.
4. A STAR IS WORN
Every MLS Cup winner gets to add a new emblem to its uniform the following season — a large gold star.
In this case, the Sounders will place that star at the top of the club’s Space Needle logo.
The star will also contain the year Seattle won its MLS Cup title.
If Seattle defends its crown this season, the Sounders will retain a gold star on its uniform for 2018 along with a smaller silver star signifying its first MLS Cup championship.
If Seattle does not defend its MLS Cup title this season, the Sounders will wear just a silver star on their uniform for 2018.