Who is the biggest threat to the Sounders’ MLS Cup crown?
Look to the club that won the Supporters’ Shield for the league’s best record last season — FC Dallas.
Coach Oscar Pareja’s group was a wounded one in the MLS playoffs last season without midfielder Mauro Diaz, who should return this summer from his Achilles injury. The Sounders defeated FC Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals.
Kellyn Acosta leads a stout FC Dallas defense, and the club brought in two key offseason additions — attacking midfielder Javier Morales and goal-scoring machine Cristian Colman at forward.
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Of course, you cannot forget the team the Sounders defeated for the MLS title — Toronto FC — with its high-paid stars in Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco.
What are realistic expectations for Clint Dempsey?
The Sounders have made an answer to that question very clear — it is all up to Dempsey.
Out with an irregular heartbeat that required surgery, Dempsey missed the final 16 games of last season — including all of Seattle’s run through the MLS playoffs.
But the returns from preseason camp have been promising: Dempsey started in four of the club’s five matches, gradually increasing his time all the way to 80 minutes in the finale Saturday, a 1-0 loss to Columbus Crew FC.
Dempsey is expected to start the season opener at Houston on Saturday, but temper expectations out of the gate. He likely won’t play a full match for the first few weeks.
As far as production, Dempsey’s best season with Seattle was in 2014 — 15 goals, 10 assists. The Sounders would be pleased if the Texas native approached somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-10 goals — and a few mouth-watering juke moves — in 2017.
How do the Sounders survive a brutal April schedule?
Let’s face it — Seattle was not sharp in its attack during the preseason and will be very careful with its lineup approach going on the road five times in its first eight matches.
General manager Garth Lagerwey made something very clear this week at training: forward Jordan Morris and defenders Brad Evans and Chad Marshall will all be receiving ample rest after spending six weeks at the U.S. men’s national team camp in January and February in California.
It doesn’t help that Evans will miss multiple weeks too with a calf injury, and that Morris has been dinged up with an ankle ailment.
Expect the Sounders to feature a bevy of lineup combinations as they wade through a taxing April road schedule at San Jose, Vancouver and the Los Angeles Galaxy. And if they get to May with somewhere around a .500 mark, they will be OK with that.
Should the club be uncomfortable early on with a smaller roster?
The signings Thursday of midfielders Zach Mathers and Jordy Delem brings Seattle’s roster total to 25 players ahead of the season opener at Houston.
Usually, MLS rosters sit at 28 players and can increase to 31 given the designated homegrown allocations and loaned-out players.
For now, Lagerwey feels comfortable with where the Sounders roster is.
“I don’t think we are under any pressure to fill up the roster right away,” Lagerway said. “We want to give young players a chance to prove themselves. ... What we want to avoid is making some panic signing.”
Lagerwey said Henry Wingo and Seyi Adekoya will be placed in the two homegrown roster spots.
What will happen with Seattle’s third starting attacking midfielder position?
Dempsey, who will play more of a secondary striker position, and prized midsummer acquisition Nicolas Lodeiro are set at two of the attacking midfielder positions.
That leaves veteran and fan favorite Alvaro Fernandez to man the third midfield position out on the left wing. He made eight starts from midseason on for the Sounders in 2016.
But coach Brian Schmetzer has indicated that the talented Wingo, a rookie out of the University of Washington, will play. He has been one of the first substitutions off the bench in preseason, and this is his most natural position.
Of course, with one designated player spot open, rumors continue to fly around about the impending acquisition of Japanese star Keisuke Honda, who is under contract with AC Milan. Honda would have Lodeiro-type impact if the Sounders were able to sign him.