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February 2, 2015 at 1:14 PM

Projecting Seattle’s starting XI for opening night against New England

Chances are, even if you had no interest in it — rooting or otherwise — by now you’ve heard about the football game that took place down in Glendale, Ariz last night. The result, and especially the finish, will be examine and re-examined by Seattleites for weeks, maybe months.

But I’m ready to move on.

You may have noticed my dual roles in recent weeks, one foot in the Sounders preseason, the other covering the Patriots both in Boston and Phoenix ahead of the Super Bowl. From this point forward, though, it’s all about the lead-up to the 2015 Major League Soccer, which is set to kick off in just over a month — labor negotiations permitting.

The first chance to get revenge on New England will take place on a soccer field, after all.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be doing a from-the-bottom-up look at each club in MLS ahead of the new season. Today, we’re keeping it local. What might Seattle’s starting lineup look like when it takes on the Revolution on March 8 at CenturyLink Field?

Goalkeeper: Stefan Frei

The breakdown: This one is a no-brainer. Frei has his critics, to be sure, especially after his shaky start with the Sounders last year. But the 28-year-old got better as the season progressed, especially come playoff time. Without a series of acrobatic saves from Frei, Seattle might not have even survived its Western Conference semifinal with Dallas.

Wild card: Few players are likely to cross the Seattle/Portland battle lines without a glimmer of hope that they can make an impact. Former Timber Troy Perkins said on the day he signed with the Sounders that his first job is to challenge for the starting gig, to force coaches to make the tough call. It’s Frei’s spot to lose, but a little competition should keep everybody on their toes.

Defenders: Tyrone Mears, Chad Marshall, Mystery Signing, Leo Gonzalez

The breakdown: The right side of the back line is all but settled. Mears is a like-for-like replacement for the departed DeAndre Yedlin, an English Premier League veteran with the chops to make an immediate impact. Marshall, the 2014 MLS defender of the year, might be the most irreplaceable piece on the entire Sounders roster.

The left side still needs some work. Zach Scott is recovering from foot surgery, and though coach Sigi Schmid said he expects the veteran back for opening night, that’s far from certain. Both Scott and Gonzalez are 34 years old, and though both were stalwarts in 2014, neither is going to play forever. My hunch? Seattle brings in another potential starter and lets the defense figure itself out from there.

Wild card: How far along are Damion Lowe and Jimmy Ockford — and Dylan Remick, for that matter? All three players are 23 years old or younger, and each could be a valuable building block for the future. But all three were left exposed in the expansion draft in December, even once Jalil Anibaba was picked up by NYCFC. No offense to Scott, but when the team is protecting a 34-year-old who needs foot surgery and is likely to retire rather than move across the country, it speaks volumes.

The other lingering question is where Brad Evans fits in to all of this. The captain has been Schmid’s Swiss army knife over the years, his versatility able to plug holes all over the field. With the midfield in much better shape than the defense, Evans could shift backward and become a regular on the back line. But new general manager Garth Lagerwey has hinted that he rates Evans higher in the center of the pitch than out on the wing, which could limit potential positions.

Midfield: Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso, Gonzalo Pineda, Lamar Neagle

The breakdown: This is taken right off the team sheet from the second leg of the Western Conference final against Los Angeles. In sharp contrast to last offseason, this year, Seattle has mostly stayed pat. The continuity should help the midfield build up even more chemistry — especially if Pineda can avoid the injuries that marred his first year in Seattle.

The most glaring unknown is, again, where Evans fits in the long term. For now, I expect Schmid to lean on what he knows. Neagle over Marco Pappa is essentially a toss-up. But the latter has struggled with positional discipline, wandering too far inside and gumming up the Seattle attack. With the team desperate for reliable wide play while it adjusts to life after Yedlin, Neagle gets the nod.

Wild card: How far along is Cristian Roldan? The playmaking midfielder out of UW was a projected top 5 draft pick before falling all the way to Seattle at No. 16. It will take him some time to adjust to the physicality of the professional game — S2 matches will help — but Roldan has the talent to make an impact as soon as this season.

Given that both Micheal Azira and Andy Rose filled in more than adequately in Pineda’s absence last year, a pro-ready Roldan could make central midfield Seattle’s deepest position.

Forward: Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins

The breakdown: The striker partnership’s 32 goals and 23 assists combined last season tell you all you need to know. Another full season together should make the duo even more formidable.

Wild card: What Roldan is to the midfield corps, Darwin Jones is to the forwards. Seattle’s fifth Homegrown Player signing is, theoretically, two years farther along than his former teammate at UW, having stayed in school for all four years instead of two. Yet minutes are at a premium up top, especially with veterans Kenny Cooper and Chad Barrett also still on the roster.

Whether the rookie can make the squad for the Revolution game will be telling — the first of many hints opening night will provide about Seattle’s search for a second-straight Supporters’ Shield and first-ever MLS Cup.

| More in MLS, Sounders FC


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