Seattle Sounders FC opens its seventh MLS season at home Sunday against the New England Revolution.
Thirty-three regular-season games will follow. And so will other competitions. Seattle will get a chance to defend its U.S. Open Cup. And summer will bring entry into group play of the CONCACAF Champions League, which the club says it is serious about winning.
These Sounders project as a deep and veteran team — and they might have to be, as coach Sigi Schmid seems reluctant to sacrifice success in any one competition to increase his chances in another.
“If we enter something, we’re in it to try to win it,” Schmid said. “But within that, we also have to be intelligent about our decisions and how we allocate our resources. Take for example Champions League: We definitely want to advance out of our group. Depending upon the schedule of games and how we’re playing, do we — I don’t want to say ‘sacrifice’ — but do we make an adjustment to help ensure that we advance in Champions League and field a slightly different team in weekend in league? That’s something that we might have to do because … winning the Supporters’ Shield is great, but at the end of the day that doesn’t guarantee you MLS Cup.”
The Sounders know that from experience, having taken the 2014 Supporters’ Shield before being eliminated from the playoffs in the Western Conference finals.
This season, six of the 10 teams in each conference will advance to the playoffs. However, there are advantages to a higher seeding, and the Sounders seem to have the quality to claim them. Las Vegas oddsmakers list Seattle’s MLS Cup chances second behind defending champion and longtime nemesis Los Angeles.
“There’s a good chemistry within the team,” forward Clint Dempsey said. “We have a good locker room. It’s just about being sharp and making sure we’re ready for the first game. It’s going to be a long season (and we have to) manage it in the right way and make sure we start well.”
The Sounders’ quality will be tested quickly, as opening opponent New England heads into the season as the betting favorite in the Eastern Conference.
Seattle opens the season close to full strength, with only All-Star midfielder Osvaldo Alonso out with a groin injury. New England also will be without a midfield star, Jermaine Jones (sports hernia).
The Sounders remain at home next weekend against San Jose before an early season bye. However, Seattle plugged part of that break by scheduling a home friendly against Club Tijuana, an opponent specifically selected to help prepare for the Mexican teams that await in Champions League.
“Champions League is something that’s critically important to me,” general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “It’s one of the things that I believe in. I believe we have these advantages here in Seattle. With 40,000 fans a game it’s one of the best crowds in the world, and we need to have a larger presence than just in Seattle or in the Northwest. And we can. And we can do that by playing in international tournaments like Champions League, and the preparation for Champions League begins on March 24 against (Tijuana).”
Over their first six seasons, the Sounders have acquired four U.S. Open Cups and one Supporters’ Shield. Absent is an MLS Cup or international trophy.
“I wouldn’t necessarily trade all the other cups for an MLS Cup, because that’s a lot of hardware,” captain Brad Evans said. “But I’d probably switch out one of those for an MLS Cup. That’s something that we’re all working to strive for. If we can pick up other hardware along the way, that’s just an added plus.”