For the second time in three seasons, the Seattle Sounders followed up an abysmal first half to the season with a dominating second half. What the Sounders weren't able to pull off in 2018 is capping their latest dramatic turnaround with another MLS Cup title.
As the Sounders head into 2019, they look like a team that should avoid a slow start this time around, but they do have the resources to make some difference-making summer signings. That makes it difficult to have a real sense of just how strong the Sounders will be in 2019.
However, based on the team already on hand, the Sounders should be a top contender in the West once again, even before reinforcements arrive.
Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz was a revelation after arriving last summer, and now he returns with a full preseason under his belt. Jordan Morris is back after missing the 2018 campaign with a torn ACL, and his arrival will effectively serve as a marquee attacking player signing for a team that had a very quiet winter on the player acquisition front.
Osvaldo Alonso has moved on, having signed with Minnesota United, but while his time in Seattle was unforgettable, the Sounders have had plenty of practice in recent years playing without him. His locker room leadership will be missed, but it means players like Cristian Roldan and Nicolas Lodeiro will need to take on more leadership duties.
Head coach Brian Schmetzer brings back most of the same squad that rattled off an impressive 14-2-2 record in the second half of 2018, but look for some tactical tweaks that should better position the Sounders to compete with the league's best teams even before the expected summer reinforcements arrive.
How did the Seattle Sounders perform in 2018?
2018 finish: Second in Western Conference (18-11-5), lost to Portland Timbers in Western Conference semifinals.
The Sounders endured a painful first half of the season, posting a 3-9-3 record that left them sitting in the Western Conference basement. Then Ruidiaz showed up, giving the Sounders attack the spark it needed. The Peruvian striker's 10 goals helped the Sounders rattle off a 12-match unbeaten run that helped them climb to second place in the West. Injuries to Chad Marshall and Osvaldo Alonso took their toll in Seattle's playoff elimination against the arch-rival Timbers, cutting short the team's bid for a third straight MLS Cup final.
Seattle's key offseason losses
Osvaldo Alonso's departure from Seattle is something that has been inevitable for some time, but it didn't make his farewell any easier for Sounders fans to take. The Sounders are set in the defensive midfield position with Cristian Roldan and Gustav Svensson, but Alonso's presence in the locker room will be sorely missed.
Another long-serving veteran who could be on the move is Roman Torres, who has been the subject of persistent trade rumors. As of now Torres isn't projected to be a starter for the Sounders so a deal would make sense for a team looking to get younger.
The Sounders also bid farewell to defender Tony Alfaro, who has signed with Chivas Guadalajara.
Seattle's key offseason additions
The Sounders have been surprisingly quiet in the winter transfer window, with their only veteran acquisition being central defender Jonathan Campbell, who arrives from the Chicago Fire to serve as some useful depth.
The rest of the new faces are rookies, led by Indiana University standout goalkeeper Trey Muse, who signed a homegrown player deal and is seen as the future of the position. Muse is one of the best young goalkeepers in American soccer, and should be groomed to be Stefan Frei's eventual replacement.
One rookie draft pick to keep an eye on is Air Force midfielder Tucker Bone, who has the skill to contribute in year one, as soon as his Air Force commitments are squared away.
Full Seattle Sounders roster entering 2019 season
Goalkeepers: Stefan Frei, Bryan Meredith, Trey Muse
Defenders: Aleks Berkolds, Jonathan Campbell, Kim Kee-hee, Kelvin Leerdam, Chad Marshall, Jordan McCrary, Nouhou Tolo, Roman Torres, Brad Smith
Midfielders: Tucker Bone, Handwalla Bwana, Jordy Delem, Nicolás Lodeiro, Víctor Rodríguez, Alex Roldan,Cristian Roldan, Joel Rydstrand, Harry Shipp, Gustav Svensson, Henry Wingo
Forwards: Will Bruin, Jordan Morris, Raul Ruidiaz
Seattle Sounders projected starting lineup
Jordan Morris' return from knee surgery gives the Sounders some much-needed speed, and he has been working on the right wing in preseason, a bit of a different look for a player who has been used as a striker, second striker and left winger before.
Nicolas Lodeiro could be poised for a more central role after working as a right winger, at least until the Sounders sign a more traditional attacking midfielder.
Injuries cost Victor Rodriguez a big chunk of the 2018 season, but his presence down the stretch was a key factor in the Sounders hitting a new stride, and he should be a focal point of the Seattle attack working on the left wing with Brad Smith, who appears to have beaten out Nouhou Tolo for the starting left back role in the biggest lineup battle of the preseason.
One interesting shift in the Sounders setup has been Chad Marshall working on the right side of the central defense after spending years as a left-sided center back. The tweak makes some sense if the Sounders plan to do more attacking with Smith at left back considering Kim Kee-hee has superior speed to Marshall and would be better equipped to cover space on the left.
Seattle Sounders' national TV coverage
Seattle Sounders vs. FC Cincinnati - Saturday, March 2, at 10 p.m. ET on FS1
Los Angeles FC vs. Seattle Sounders - Sunday, April 21, at 7 p.m. ET on FS1
Seattle Sounders vs. Los Angeles FC - Sunday, April 28, at 3:30 p.m. ET
Sporting Kansas City vs. Seattle Sounders - Sunday, May 26, at 6 p.m. ET on FS1
Seattle Sounders vs. Atlanta United - Sunday, July 14, at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN
Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers - Sunday, July 21, at 9:30 p.m. ET on FS1
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City - Sunday, August 4, at 10 p.m. ET on FS1
LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders - Saturday, August 17, at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders - Friday, August 23, at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN
Seattle Sounders vs. LA Galaxy - Sunday, September 1, at 6 p.m. ET on FS1
Seattle Sounders vs. New York Red Bulls - Sunday, September 15, at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN