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.”