Sounders FC opened preseason training in January with two major holes in its projected starting 11.
Those holes remain largely unfilled today as the Sounders open their fifth Major League Soccer season against the Montreal Impact at CenturyLink Field.
However, after the club’s final preseason practice Friday, coach Sigi Schmid said he is comfortable that his club has the resources to compensate for the loan of forward Fredy Montero and the trade of center back Jeff Parke.
“We feel OK,” Schmid said. “We’ve got experienced guys. ... We have to bide our time a little bit until (Patrick) Ianni gets healthy, until Djimi (Traore) gets 100 percent fit. But I feel happy with the options that we have back there.”
Observers of Major League Soccer apparently do, too. A North American Soccer Reporters survey this week picked the Sounders to win the MLS Western Conference, ahead of (in order) defending MLS Cup champion Los Angeles, defending conference champion San Jose, Salt Lake, Vancouver, Dallas, Portland, Colorado and Chivas USA. The poll picked Sporting Kansas City to win the East.
A position-by-position analysis of what those writers see in the Sounders:
GOALKEEPERS: Michael Gspurning, Marcus Hahnemann, Josh Ford.
Gspurning ranks among the best goalkeepers in MLS, and Hahnemann could be the best reserve. Together, this projects as the top goalkeeper group in the league. Gspurning returns after leading MLS in goals-against average last season. Meanwhile, Hahnemann returns in far better shape than he was in September when the 40-year-old arrived from what he thought might have been retirement. His performance in the Desert Diamond Cup last week indicates he has enough left to be an effective No. 1.
DEFENDERS: Adam Johansson, Zach Scott, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Leo Gonzalez, Marc Burch, Andrew Duran, Patrick
Ianni, Dylan Remick, Djimi Traore, DeAndre Yedlin, Eriq Zavaleta.
The veteran back line should be good enough for now – especially with those goalkeepers behind them – then improve as the season progresses. Hurtado’s performances in the Desert Diamond Cup were reminiscent of those he used to have regularly in 2009 when he was an All-Star and defender of the year finalist. Scott has proven solid in short doses and has the versatility to help inside and wide. Traore, 32, played 16 seasons in Europe and should have enough left to get the job done in MLS. Schmid also has predicted great things for rookies Yedlin and Remick. And he seems to think there could be a payoff down the road as top-pick Zavaleta grows into his body and converts from forward to center back. Ianni is said to be recovering on schedule from a foot injury and should be ready in a month or two
MIDFIELD: Mauro Rosales, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Steve Zakuani, Mario Martinez, Servando Carrasco, Alex Caskey, Lamar Neagle, Andy Rose, Shalrie Joseph.
Like last season, this is an area featuring plenty of guys with plenty of talent. Enough talent, in fact, that Schmid could have the luxury of getting creative with some of it – perhaps moving Evans to the back, or Rosales up top, or Joseph forward or back. Alonso is an MLS First XI talent. Rosales is a proven distributor and leader. Zakuani will be healthy from the start. Martinez showed preseason flashes that indicate he could have a breakthrough season. And behind those veterans, there are plenty of interesting younger guys for depth, development and early rounds of the U.S. Open Cup.
FORWARD: Eddie Johnson, David Estrada, Sammy Ochoa.
Johnson appears ready to pick up where he left off last season, in which he recorded a club-record 14 goals. He paired interestingly with Rosales in a preseason friendly against Veracruz; or Schmid has the more conventional options of David Estrada and Sammy Ochoa. However, none of those project as close to an even replacement for Montero, whose 47 goals over four seasons lead the club and rank third in MLS. The situation would improve dramatically if the Sounders are successful in their efforts to bring striker Obafemi Martins over from Levante of Spain’s La Liga. European media on Friday reported the Levante board of directors had voted against the deal. However, that was not seen as necessarily fatal to the transfer. The Sounders issued no updates on the negotiations.
BOTTOM LINE: Some believe that the Sounders could get off to a slow start, while their solutions at forward and central defense move into place. However, the quality of Johnson, their midfield and goalkeeping could be enough to keep them in the Supporters’ Shield race all season. And if the Martins transfer goes through, this projects as the Sounders’ best shot at MLS Cup.
Martinez (knee) trained comfortably for the past two days and Schmid indicated he should be available tonight. However, Johansson (knee) has been limited this week, and Schmid indicated his availability will be a game-time decision. ... The Sounders traded second-year midfielder Cordell Cato to San Jose in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2014 Supplemental Draft. ... General manager Adrian Hanauer said in a Friday interview with KJR-AM that the club expects to match or slightly exceed season-ticket sales from last season. He said he also expects the club to set another season attendance record by opening all of CenturyLink Field for four regular-season home games. Those games have not yet been announced, but Hanauer said three are expected to involve Los Angeles, Portland and Vancouver.blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer