Familiar faces abound as Sounders open preseason camp
By TIM BOOTH
TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) The Seattle Sounders ended last season with a thud in the MLS Cup final.
It was a disappointing performance but not one that made team officials feel a roster overhaul was necessary.
The changes Seattle made before the start of last season, plus some summer additions, put the Sounders in a position where the offseason heading into the 2018 campaign has so far been mostly, well, boring.
"We feel really good about our team, if I'm honest," general manager Garth Lagerwey said Monday. "Nothing is given, nothing is promised, we've got to go out and earn it. Again, if you look at our whole 18 and you can say we could have 15 or 16 of these guys back from our 18 guys that dressed in the final, OK. Certainly we want to continue to try and add players and get better, but we feel pretty good about our group."
Just six weeks and a couple of days after losing to Toronto in the MLS Cup final, the Sounders returned to the practice field for the start of preseason camp. Most of the camp will be conducted somewhere other than Seattle, with the Sounders spending lengthy stints in Southern California and Arizona.
And it's a season that gets started sooner than most. By the time the Sounders face the expansion Los Angeles Football Club on March 4 to open the MLS regular season, they will have already played two critical games in the CONCACAF Champions League round of 16. The Sounders face Santa Tecla from El Salvador in a two-game, home-and-home series beginning Feb. 22 to open the knockout round of the tournament.
The Champions League matches have added importance to Seattle's preseason. No MLS team has won the Champions League in its current format and Seattle has never advanced beyond the semifinals. But it's the second straight offseason with little downtime for the players.
"The lack of rest certainly is an issue. I would say it's equal parts mental and physical as the guys have been going for two years straight with not a lot of rest," coach Brian Schmetzer said. "We would certainly prefer that to the flip side which is getting two months off and not doing well."
Helping Seattle ramp up its preseason preparations is the fact its roster is nearly the same as when it lost to Toronto. The only full-time starter Seattle lost in the offseason was Joevin Jones, who joined Darmstadt in Germany. Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan are at U.S. national team camp. The major changes to the roster came through the acquisition of defender Waylon Francis from Columbus and the drafting of Alex Roldan, the younger brother of Cristian.
Contrast that with last year when the Sounders changed 13 players, including five starters, from the roster that won the 2016 MLS Cup title.
Lagerwey didn't want the lack of change to be viewed as a sign Seattle was content with what happened last season.
"We are not sitting here saying losing in the final in that manner is acceptable," Lagerwey said. "But what we are saying is we're not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater and build from scratch because we lost one game on the road either."
Updated January 22, 2018