Sounders focus almost entirely on MLS Cup title

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 and accomplish that goal, a year after falling a game

short in the Western Conference final against Los Angeles, the

Sounders are going into the season 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

when the regular season begins on Saturday night against Montreal,

followed quickly by a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal

against Mexican power Tigres.

But it’s the outcome later in the year that matters most to the

Sounders.

”I’d be lying if I said I wish on January 19 or whenever we

started preseason that we didn’t have our squad completely settled.

I knew that this year was going to be a tough one and unfortunately

it coincides with a big Champions League quarterfinal,” Seattle

general manager Adrian Hanauer said.

”But 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.”

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 remains 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 where he led Seattle in goals and

earned his way into a call-up for the U.S. national team.

While Johnson and Montero never completely clicked in their one

season playing together their dual presence created havoc for

defenses. Johnson seemed to be the greater recipient, after scoring

a team-high 14 goals in MLS play, but that was partly due to

defenders wondering where Montero was lurking.

The most likely replacement would be David Estrada, who started

last season on a scoring binge with five goals in 13 matches before

breaking his left foot. Seattle could also use Sammy Ochoa or slide

Zakuani or Rosales up front. Seattle is also trying to finalize a

deal with Spanish club Levante to bring in Martins as another

scoring threat.

”Does Eddie have the potential to score 20 goals? Yes he does.

Is it going to happen? I’m not sure,” Seattle 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.”

Preventing goals will be just as big a concern for Seattle. Not

because of its goalkeeper, however, after Gspurning had a stellar

first year in the MLS, but due to the questions along the backline.

When Seattle traded Parke, it lost its most consistent central

defender.

The hope was that Patrick Ianni would team with Jhon Kennedy

Hurtado and step into Parke’s spot, but he’s been sidelined for

most of the preseason with a foot injury. Seattle drafted Eriq

Zavaleta out of Indiana with its first pick in the MLS SuperDraft.

Even though he was a forward and goal scorer in college, the

Sounders project him as an eventual defender – a role that because

of depth could be coming sooner than expected for the rookie.

The ability for Joseph to play a number of different positions

gives Seattle some flexibility, but he likely won’t be in game

shape for a few weeks. Seattle also signed former Liverpool

defender Djimi Traore before the start of the season.

”I’m glad they allowed me to come here and play with this

group,” Joseph said. ”It’s very special, very talented group and

hopefully we can get the results every week we come out here and

play.”