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Western Conference Preview: Seattle Sounders

What can we expect in 2016 from the team that finished 4th in the West in 2015?

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

With the departure of Obafemi Martins to Shanghai, the Sounders are switching to a 4-3-3 with 21-year old Jordan Morris, who was signed to the largest Homegrown contract in MLS history this January, on one flank and Texan gunslinger Clint Dempsey on the other. Paraguayan veteran Nelson Valdez will be stationed between them at striker. This season hinges on the contribution of Morris and Valdez. Morris has big expectations on his shoulders as he has shown great promise already with a goal for the Yanks against archrivals Mexico and two assists for the Sounders this past week in a preseason match against the Galaxy. He should be at home in his native Seattle with his father, who is Chief Medical Director for the club. Valdez spurned an offer of a Chinese payday to stay in Seattle, so he should be motivated. He saw limited action for Seattle last season, playing 413 minutes in 7 games and scoring 1 goal.

Seattle lost Marco Pappa's creative spark this winter as he transferred to Colorado, but his position has been done away with as the Sounders downsize to three in the midfield. Andreas Ivanschitz and Erik Friberg will benefit from a preseason with their teammates as they arrived in the middle of last season. Ivanschitz in particular has had a dynamic preseason. Ozzie Alonso's return to full health will be a boost, although it is unclear if his uncharacteristic performance after his return from injury last season was due to a transient issue or an age-related decline as he has now crossed the 30-year old threshold.

The Sounders will be excited for massive Panamanian center back Román Torres to return to full health sometime between April and June. After his acquisition last summer, he lasted only five games before going down with a torn ACL. His partnership with Chad Marshall should be one of the top center back pairings in the league and allow utility man Brad Evans to deploy wherever he is needed in midfield or defense. That position could be left back, where Seattle will need to replace Leo Gonzalez.

Bottom Line: How many goals can Morris and Valdez contribute? If Clint Dempsey ends up being the only reliable goal scorer, it will be a rough season for the Rave Green. Dempsey and Morris will both be busy this summer with the USA in the Copa America Centenario. Who fills in when one or both are injured or fatigued? And what does GM Garth Lagerwey do with the open DP slot?

Projected Strongest Lineup: