Impact-Sounders Preview

The Seattle Sounders have big expectations for the upcoming
season.

The goal is reaching the MLS Cup final for the first time in
franchise history.

To try to accomplish that goal, a year after falling a game
short in the Western Conference final against Los Angeles, the
Sounders are going into Saturday night’s season opener against the
visiting Montreal Impact with a roster that is still in flux after
an offseason that’s already had significant changes.

Gone is striker Fredy Montero, on loan to Millonarios in
Colombia. Gone is defensive stalwart Jeff Parke, traded to
Philadelphia.

Likely gone will be midfielder and designated player Christian
Tiffert, the result of Seattle seeking to add Nigerian forward
Obafemi Martins.

The result is that Seattle may not be a completely settled team
against Montreal, but it’s the outcome later in the year that
matters most to the Sounders, who went 15-8-11 in 2012.

“Our big goal is MLS Cup and so we were willing to sacrifice a
little bit of the front end to make sure we had things sorted come
the summer as we head into the playoff hunt and hopefully tracking
down an MLS Cup,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said.

Following the deepest postseason run in the franchise’s short
history, the Sounders should again be among the elite of the loaded
Western Conference.

They have a star up front with Eddie Johnson, a wall in the back
with goalkeeper Michael Gspurning and one of the most talented
midfields in the league with Osvaldo Alonso, Mauro Rosales, Brad
Evans, Steve Zakuani and newly acquired designated player Shalrie
Joseph.

Yet there remain just enough questions about the Sounders –
namely who will pair with Johnson, and along the defensive back
line – to keep them from being an overwhelming favorite going into
the season.

But anything less than a deep run in the MLS playoffs – and
likely a title game appearance – will be a disappointment.

“There is drive within us more than the expectations from
outside, but we also want to reward our fans, reward our club for
what they’ve done for us,” Evans said.

With Montero gone, all of the attention up front will be on
Johnson, coming off a season in which he led Seattle with 14 goals
and earned his way into a call-up for the U.S. national team.

“Does Eddie have the potential to score 20 goals? Yes he does.
Is it going to happen? I’m not sure,” coach Sigi Schmid said.
“What’s most important for us is that we score goals to win. If
it’s a situation where Eddie gets 20 assists instead of 20 goals, I
probably wouldn’t argue with that. He needs to be involved in our
goal-scoring opportunities.”

Montreal is coming off a 12-16-6 season, posting an MLS record
for wins by an expansion team. The Impact head into their second
season after making relatively few changes to the team, except at
the top.

They replaced overachieving coach Jesse Marsch, who left by
mutual decision, with Marco Schallibaum, a veteran who has coached
nearly 10 years with five clubs in the Swiss league and spent the
last two years as a FIFA coaching instructor in Asia.

The team also added Italian midfielder Andrea Pisanu, joining
countrymen Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta. Both Di Vaio and
Nesta should be better acclimated this season after joining the
Impact in the midst of the 2012 campaign, while goalkeeper Troy
Perkins – acquired last August from Portland – also has had a
chance to get used to the team.

Canadian Patrice Bernier had a breakout season last year with a
team-high nine goals and eight assists in 27 matches.

The Impact were just 2-12-3 on the road last season, and Bernier
knows they face a stiff challenge as they visit Seattle for the
first time. The Sounders, who lost 4-1 in Montreal on June 16, went
11-4-2 on their own pitch in 2012.

“We’re going to play in a stadium known for its crowd and
atmosphere,” Bernier said. “However, we’re more mature than last
season, we know each other more. We’re ready to face the
storm.”