However, after watching three games over four days in Tucson and in conversations with club leadership, I find myself thinking this could end up being the best team Seattle has fielded, and – come autumn – the one most capable of winning MLS Cup.
Starting from the back:
Defense: The goalkeeping is the best in Major League Soccer. With a couple of dazzling saves Friday, Michael Gspurning salvaged a draw from what would have been a loss with any of the lesser 95 percent of MLS goalkeepers on the pitch. And on Wednesday and Saturday, Marcus Hahnemann indicated he could be not only the best reserve goalkeeper in MLS, but superior to most starters. Yes, most.
With those keepers behind them, the back line will be fine for now … and perhaps dazzling later. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado had the kind of game Friday that he used to have regularly in 2009 when he was an All-Star and Defender of the Year finalist. Zack Scott is solid. Eriq Zavaleta has a big body and perhaps big potential. And the signing of Djimi Traore does two very important things: one practical and one symbolic. The practical is that he should ease -- if not erase -- the impact from the early season absence of Patrick Ianni. The symbolic is that this move demonstrates that the Sounders front office is not willing to accept even a temporary glaring hole in the middle of its defense. They are not only playing for the MLS Cup, they are playing for regular-season points now that will translate to playoff seeding later.
On the outside, the defense returns proven veterans in Leo Gonzalez, Adam Johansson, Marc Burch and Scott. However, was impossible to watch the final two Desert Diamond Cup games without projecting a bit about just how good Dylan Remick and especially DeAndre Yedlin could become. Yedlin. Is. The. Real. Thing.
Midfield: This area, of course, is brimming with talent – and in enough numbers where Sigi Schmid could have the luxury of being creative with some of it … say using Brad Evans to the back or Mauro Rosales up top or Shalrie Joseph anywhere and everywhere. Alonso is Alonso. Rosales is Rosales. Zakuani is healthy. Martinez might be up and down, but his ups are the stuff of SportsCenter Top Tens. And again, beyond the veterans, there are plenty of interesting younger guys for depth, development and the early rounds of U.S. Open Cup.
Forwards: Up front, Eddie Johnson looks like he’s picking up where he left off last season. He paired interestingly with Rosales on Friday. And Schmid has other familiar options in David Estrada and Sammy Ochoa. However, one of the primary reasons I believe the 2013 Sounders might be the best edition yet is my increasing confidence that the club is serious about spending what it takes to bring in a difference-making striker – perhaps even before they kick of their fifth season Saturday against Montreal.