2012 record and finish: 15-8-11 (3rd place in Western Conference)
Additions: M Shalrie Joseph, D Djimi Traore, M Lamar Neagle, D DeAndre Yedlin, F Eriq Zavaleta, D Dylan Remick
Losses: F Fredy Montero, D Jeff Parke, M Christian Tiffert (pending), D/M Mike Seamon, G Andrew Weber, F Cordell Cato, G Bryan Meredith, D Michael Tetteh, D Daniel Steres
Key questions facing this team
- 2013 Season Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps
- 2013 Season Preview: Portland Timbers
1. How much will the team feel the absence of Fredy Montero?
With Montero now on loan to Colombian side Millonarios, Seattle was wondering who would provide the goals in place of the club's all-time leading scorer, and it was unclear who would partner Eddie Johnson. But now it has emerged that Levante striker Obafemi Martins will join the club, and his speed should complement the size and power of Johnson well. In reserve Seattle has the likes of David Estrada, and Mauro Rosales could slide up top alongside Johnson in a pinch. Given that Johnson is bound to miss league matches due to international duty, these options will no doubt come in handy.
2. Is there enough quality and depth in the center of Seattle's defense?
The absence of Montero will be felt, but the departure of center back Jeff Parke to Philadelphia could be even more significant. Patrick Ianni endured an inconsistent 2012, and at present is a candidate to start the season on the injured list with a broken foot. The arrival of former Liverpool defender Djimi Traore has shored things up a bit, but it remains to be seen how well he'll partner with Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. An additional worry is that the backups at present are either inexperienced, or in the case of Zach Scott and Shalrie Joseph, better suited elsewhere. For that reason, Seattle can ill afford any injuries or a drop off in form in that part of the field.
3. Can Seattle get more out of its designated players?
For all of Seattle's success over the last four years, its track record with designated players has been spotty. The Sounders have gotten much more out of players such as Montero and Rosales, who were originally signed to non-DP contracts. Performers who were DPs from the get-go, like Blaise Nkufo, Freddie Ljungberg and Christian Tiffert haven't been nearly as effective. As for new acquisition Shalrie Joseph, not only is he not fit at present, but it's difficult to see where he will slide into the lineup once he gets in shape. As for Martins, at 28 he's at least a bit closer to his peak than past DPs, giving Sounders fans hope that he'll live up to his designated player billing.
Biggest X-factor: Steve Zakuani
Two years ago, Zakuani was one of the league's premier wide midfielders, showing blistering speed and a nose for goal. But the broken leg he sustained in 2011 halted his progress, and some complication slowed his recovery. Zakuani did reach important milestones last season, making eight appearances and even chipping in with a goal. But with manager Sigi Schmid stating that Seattle will need more goals from midfield this season, it's vital that Zakuani at least approach his 2010 form, when he scored 10 goals.
Breakout player to watch: Mario Martinez
It seems a stretch to name an established international as a breakout player, but in Martinez's case, the tag seems apt. The Honduran didn't make much of an impact after arriving in midseason last year but then scored a memorable postseason goal against Real Salt Lake to help the Sounders win their first-ever playoff series. Heading into the current campaign, Schmid has praised Martinez's form and fitness. Seattle's midfield is plenty crowded, but Martinez looks to have cemented a spot in the starting lineup and could be in line for a huge season.
On paper, Seattle has championship-quality pieces. Alonso remains among the premier holding midfielders in the league, while Michael Gspurning has ably replaced Kasey Keller in goal. Johnson, Martins, Zakuani, Rosales, and Martinez will do plenty to torment opposition defenses, while Evans remains the team's Mr. Fix-it.
But unless the questions along the back line are addressed, it looks like Seattle's quest for a league championship will fall short once again. Sure, Osvaldo Alonso's range and tackling provide a sizable defensive shield, but he can't be everywhere at once. In addition to the issues at center back, Seattle remains vulnerable on the flanks as well. All told, 2013 is shaping up much like seasons past. Seattle will maintain its place in the league's upper echelons, but winning MLS Cup still seems out of reach.