SEATTLE — Everything was on course for the Seattle Sounders. The roster churn from the previous offseason was done. The established core was in place. Everyone was healthy.
Then before the MLS season ever started, Jordan Morris crumpled to the field in El Salvador with a torn knee ligament, ending his 2018 season before it began and changing some of the plans for a team with aspirations of a third straight appearance in the MLS Cup final.
The last thing the Sounders want is pity, but Morris’ injury coupled with the lingering memory of last December’s MLS Cup final loss to Toronto were not how Seattle wanted to kick off the season on Sunday, when they will host the expansion Los Angeles FC.
“This idea that the sky is falling because we miss a player for injury is just preposterous to me. Now does this mean that we’re going to be the absolute best team in the league? We can always get better. We can always improve,” Seattle general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “But I honestly find it disrespectful that we are underrating our locker room and our players and we’re not giving credit to the guys that got us here. And you do not look at one bad game or one bad final and say ‘everything stinks. We’re going to redo this whole team from scratch.’ … We believe in this group. We believe we are a good enough team to start the season.”
The Sounders should again be one of the top teams in the West, even with the loss of Morris. There are no obvious weaknesses and Seattle has built enough depth to account for a handful of expected World Cup departures later in the spring and summer.
Here are other things to watch as the Sounders begin their 10th MLS season:
DEUCE’S LAST DANCE?: Clint Dempsey showed last season that he was fully recovered from the heart issue that derailed his 2016 season and put his career in doubt. Dempsey finished with 12 goals and three assists in the regular season and another three goals in the playoffs. Dempsey signed a one-year deal to remain in Seattle for 2018. But Dempsey will turn 35 in early March and with only one year of contract security the question of when Dempsey is ready to call it a career will keep coming up.
NEW FACES: While Seattle’s roster is mostly intact from last season, the two big signings the club made were significant. Seattle landed Norwegian midfielder Magnus Wolff Eikrem and South Korean defender Kim Kee-hee. The addition of Eikrem could be even more valuable if Seattle ends up needing to push Dempsey forward to play in a more attacking position with the loss of Morris. Kim is a talented defender with national team experience for a World Cup-bound country who gives Seattle great depth on the back line to go along with Chad Marshall and Roman Torres.
REPLACING JONES: The departure of Joevin Jones for Germany was the one major departure from last season. Seattle will miss Jones’ ability to play multiple positions on the left side, but the Sounders have options to replace Jones at the left back position. Nouhou Tolo was a revelation for Seattle last season when he filled in for Jones. The Sounders were also able to add a veteran by acquiring Waylon Francis from Columbus to have more depth on the back line.
PLAYING AT HOME: It’s pretty simple: The Sounders would like to avoid playing the 2018 MLS Cup final on the road if they are fortunate enough to get there. After playing the previous two finals in Toronto, the Sounders would like nothing more than the opportunity to play for a title at home. That means being more consistent in the regular season and avoiding the swoons that have defined the past two years and left the Sounders playing on the road in the final.