It’s hard to be excited by maintaining the status quo, especially when you’ve grown slightly spoiled by a taste of success. If you dine only on champagne and caviar, that meal eventually turns into carbonated grape juice and fish eggs. So you’ll forgive the legion of rave green fans if the buzz around the Seattle Sounders’ 2018 season isn’t at a fever pitch.
As always, there was some attrition during the offseason. Midfielder/defender Brad Evans—aside from Osvaldo Alonso and Lamar Neagle, the only player left from the team’s inaugural MLS season in 2009—signed with Sporting Kansas City. Left back Joevin Jones signed for a second division team in Germany. Backup goalkeeper Tyler Miller was selected by Los Angeles FC in the expansion draft. The team traded right back Oniel Fisher to D.C. United (which leaves the crown for “best smile” up for grabs!), and loaned left midfielder Aaron Kovar to LAFC. Jones is the only one that really stings, as the defender notched a monstrous 11 assists last season and provided much-needed speed out of midfield.
To counter the exodus, the squad added some needed depth in the form of attacking midfielder Magnus Wolff Eikrem, left back Waylon Francis, forward/midfielder Lamar Neagle (back for a fifth time, because apparently he has a punch card to fill up), midfielder Alex Roldan, right back Jordan McCrary, centerback Kim Kee-Hee, and goalkeeper Calle Brown.
The good news is that the Sounders have retained most of the squad from last year. The bad news is that Clint Dempsey, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Gustav Svensson, and Alonso are all over age 30. With the Sounders competing in the U.S. Open Cup, CONCACAF Champions League, and MLS, injuries to the vets are … likely. In fact, the Sounders already might start the season with Torres and Alonso on the sideline with injuries, while star-in-the-making Jordan Morris just tore his ACL and will miss the entire season (apparently knees are at a premium on this Sounders roster).
But the best fix for old bones is new blood, and there are many youngsters on the team ready to step into the spotlight. Cristian Roldan, Nouhou Tolo, Handwalla Bwana, and Henry Wingo are all poised for a big season. At 22, the positionally versatile Roldan already has caps for the U.S. Men’s National Team and is one leap away from being too good to continue playing in Seattle. 20-year-old left back Nouhou Tolo (“The Hou,” if you’re nasty) is a sideshow on rocket skates in all of the best ways—an artistic spirit who attempts the spectacular even if it’s occasionally reckless. Despite being only 18, winger Bwana could see starting minutes this year (I’m going out on a very thin not well-supported limb here) thanks to his ankle-breaking dribbles and knack for finding the back of the net. Last but not least, 22-year-old winger Wingo has been lighting teams up in preseason like a rigged pinball machine. With very few speed options on the team, Wingo’s development is going to be very important this year.
The status quo is not flashy, but the Sounders have made two straight MLS Cup Finals because of it. And they won one! The winter moves may have lacked fanfare, but Sounders continue to fold in depth and youth each season, creating refreshing athletic (though non-edible) meringue. The Sounders can and should be in the hunt for a second MLS Cup, but the season shouldn’t just be about the wins and losses. Enjoy watching what could be final seasons for Clint Dempsey and Chad Marshall. Delight in Handwalla Bwana snatching ankles from defenders around the league. The Sounders are going to be fun this year. Maybe they won’t make us forget about that MLS Cup Final, but —c’mon people—our team was in the MLS Cup Final again! Savor the bigger picture.
Seattle Sounders MLS Season Opener vs. Los Angeles FC
Sunday, March 4 at 2 p.m., CenturyLink Field, $27 and up | Televised on ESPN