SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC

Preview: A look at Seattle Sounders and rest of Western Conference

Feb 20, 2024, 12:32 PM

Seattle Sounders Club World Cup...

Jordan Morris of Seattle Sounders FC during a FIFA Club World Cup soccer match in 2023. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)

(AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)

The 2024 MLS season is nearly here, with the Seattle Sounders set to open play at 1:30 p.m. Saturday against LAFC.

Seattle Sounders sign Argentinian winger Pedro de la Vega to deal

How do the Sounders and the rest of the Western Conference look heading into the campaign? The Associated Press breaks down every team below.

SEATTLE SOUNDERS

2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 14-9-11, 2nd in West, fell to LAFC in the conference semifinals.

COACH: Brian Schmetzer.

KEY PLAYERS: Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan, Stefan Frei.

OUTLOOK: After missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, the Seattle Sounders found themselves back near the top of the Western Conference last season before getting bounced by LAFC. Seattle said goodbye to captain Nicolas Lodeiro after the season and need striker Raúl Ruidíaz to return to his past form to help an attack that scored only 41 goals last season, the second-fewest of any team that made the playoffs. The addition of Pedro de la Vega should help Seattle’s attack be a bit more potent.

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LAFC

2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 14-10-10, 3rd in the West, fell to Columbus in the MLS Cup final.

COACH: Steve Cherundolo.

KEY PLAYERS: Denis Bouanga, Hugo Loris, Eduard Atuesta.

OUTLOOK: LAFC played the most games of any MLS team last season, reaching the finals of the CONCACAF Champions League and the MLS Cup playoffs. LAFC fell 2-1 to the Columbus Crew for the league title. Denis Bouanga collected the 2023 MLS Golden Boot with 20 goals. Hugo Loris joined Los Angeles after 12 years with Tottenham. He played in three World Cups, including France’s trophy-winning team in 2018. Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini retired following the 2023 season. Eduard Atuesta returned to LAFC after a stint with Brazilian club Palmeiras. Whether Carlos Vela stays with the team remains to be seen.

AUSTIN FC

2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 10-15-9, 12th in the West.

COACH: Josh Wolff.

KEY PLAYERS: Sebastian Driussi, Jon Gallagher, Owen Wolff.

OUTLOOK: Austin FC missed out on the playoffs last season for the second time in the last three years. The team acquired free agent striker Diego Rubio to shore up the No. 9 spot. Rubio was hampered by injury last season with the Colorado Rapids, but had 16 goals in 2022. Captain Sebastian Driussi had 22 goals in 2022 but his production fell a bit with 16 goals last season. Owen Wolff, son of head coach Josh Wolff, was a finalist for the league’s Young Player of the Year award. Austin traded veteran defender Nick Lima to New England. Goalkeeper Brad Stuver played every minute of the 2023 season.

COLORADO RAPIDS

2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 5-17-12, 14th in the West.

COACH: Chris Armas.

KEY PLAYERS: Zach Steffen, Sam Vines, Djordje Mihailovic.

OUTLOOK: The worst team in the Western Conference last season went into makeover mode in the offseason. Coach Chris Armas was brought back from England to lead the overhaul that was highlighted by the acquisition of Zach Steffen from Manchester City, Sam Vines from Antwerp and Djordje Mihailovic from AZ Alkmaar. They are three major moves that should dramatically improve the on-field product. It was just three seasons ago that Colorado had the best regular season mark in the Western Conference.

FC DALLAS

2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 11-10-13, 7th in the West, fell to the Seattle Sounders in the first round.

COACH: Nico Estevez.

KEY PLAYERS: Jesus Ferreira, Petar Musa, Sebastian Lletget.

OUTLOOK: Dallas’ biggest splash in the offseason was bringing in Croatian striker Petar Musa from Benfica for a club-record transfer fee of $9.7 million. Musa, 25, scored 12 goals in 44 appearances in the past two seasons with the Portuguese club. Jesus Ferreira was the team’s top scorer last year with 12 goals and six assists in league play. Designated Player Alan Velasco tore his ACL playing the Seattle Sounders in the opening round of the playoffs and will likely miss the season. Dallas’ defense was solid last season with the team conceding the second-fewest goals in the West.

HOUSTON DYNAMO

2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 14-11-9, 4th in the West, fell to LAFC in the conference final.

COACH: Ben Olsen.

KEY PLAYERS: Hector Herrera, Sebastian Ferriera, Griffin Dorsey.

OUTLOOK: Last season was the first under coach Ben Olsen and it went well. In addition to a fourth-place finish in the West to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017, the Dynamo also won the U.S. Open Cup. Houston advanced to the conference finals in 2023 after finishing in 13th place the year before. Hector Herrera drives the team in the midfield but is out for the start of the season with a minor injury. Sebastian Ferriera is back after spending most of last season on loan in Brazil. The Dynamo re-signed right back Griffin Dorsey. Corey Baird, who had eight goals and six assists, left for FC Cincinnati.

LA GALAXY

2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 8-14-12, 13th in the West.

COACH: Greg Vanney.

KEY PLAYERS: Gabriel Pec, Diego Fagúndez, Miki Yamane.

OUTLOOK: The Chicharito era in with the Galaxy is over after Mexican star Javier Hernandez returned to Guadalajara, the club he began his career with. The addition of Gabriel Pec is a major injection of youth and offense that should pair nicely with Diego Fagúndez. Japanese international Miki Yamane should be the starting right back and help a defense that gave up a league-worst 67 goals last season. The Galaxy still have one designated player slot available so another major addition remains possible.

MINNESOTA UNITED

2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 10-13-11, 11th in the West.

COACH: Cameron Knowles.

KEY PLAYERS: Teemu Pukki, Emanuel Reynoso, Bongi Hlongwane.

OUTLOOK: It’s been a weird offseason for the Loons. Longtime coach Adrian Heath was let go, but Cameron Knowles was the second interim coach hired by the club and has not been given the permanent job. Emanuel Reynoso, who was absent for four months last season, showed up for preseason camp only a week late this time. Khaled El-Ahmad was hired as the club’s chief soccer officer but had to work several months from afar because of visa issues before arriving in Minnesota. The one upside of last season was the emergence of young attacker Bongi Hlongwane, who had eight goals and five assists.

PORTLAND TIMBERS

2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 11-13-10, 10th in the West.

COACH: Phil Neville.

KEY PLAYERS: Evander, Eryk Williamson, Diego Chara.

OUTLOOK: The Timbers let go of coach Giovanni Savarese in the midst of last season and hired Phil Neville to lead the team in 2024. Neville, a former player for Manchester United, previously coached the England women’s national team and Inter Miami. Portland did not make any splashy moves in the offseason, but Neville was hinting at a possible signing in the preseason. Evander is a dangerous playmaker. Eryk Williamson say’s he’s fully healthy after a few seasons impacted by injury. Diego Chara returns to the midfield for his 14th season in Portland.

REAL SALT LAKE

2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 14-12-8, 5th in the West, lost to Houston in the opening round.

COACH: Pablo Mastroeni.

KEY PLAYERS: Matt Crooks, Cristian Arango, Diego Luna.

OUTLOOK: Real Salt Lake may lack some of the high-end stars of other clubs, but its depth has led to three straight playoff berths. Crooks was a late add just before the start of the season from English Championship side Middlesborough and should bolster the RSL midfield. Luna is an emerging young star who will play this season at age 20 and Arango will take on a bigger responsibility after Jefferson Savarino was sold to Brazilian club Botafogo.

SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES

2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 10-10-14, 9th in the West, fell to Sporting Kansas City in the wild card match.

COACH: Luchi Gonzalez.

KEY PLAYERS: Jeremy Ebobisse, Daniel, Cristian Espinoza.

OUTLOOK: The Earthquakes are celebrating their 50th anniversary. The team was part of the NASL from 1974-84, winning the league title in 1975. The Quakes secured the final postseason spot with a ninth-place finish in the West, but fell in the wildcard match to Sporting Kansas City. Brazilian player Daniel was stout in goal but only played in 22 matches. Cristian Espinoza had 13 goals and 13 assists. Cade Cowell went to Guadalajara in Liga MX in the offseason. But San Jose signed Norwegian forward Amahl Pellegrino, a proven scorer, to help Jeremy Ebobisse and Espinoza.

SPORTING KANSAS CITY

2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 12-14-8, 8th in the West, fell to Houston in the conference semifinals.

COACH: Peter Vermes.

KEY PLAYERS: Alan Pulido, Johnny Russell, Memo Rodriguez.

OUTLOOK: Sporting was winless in its first 10 games last season then had a late surge that got them into the playoffs. From there, they advanced all the way to the conference semifinals, beating San Jose in the wild card round on penalties before besting St. Louis City in the best-of-three first round. Johnny Russell scored four of his eight goals in Sporting’s final three games. Both Alan Pulido and goalkeeper Tim Melia struggled with injuries early on but Pulido finished with 14 goals.

ST. LOUIS CITY

2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 17-12-5, 1st in the West, lost to Sporting Kansas City in opening round of playoffs.

COACH: Bradley Carnell.

KEY PLAYERS: Roman Bürki, João Klauss, Eduard Löwen.

OUTLOOK: The inaugural season for St. Louis was perfect — until the postseason. St. Louis was the best team in the Western Conference for the entire regular season, finishing with 56 points and 17 victories. But St. Louis lost its last two regular season matches and were emphatically dumped out of the playoffs by rival Sporting Kansas City in the opening round. If St. Louis is to avoid a sophomore slump Roman Bürki will again need to match what he did last season when he was the MLS goalkeeper of the year allowing only 42 goals and posting eight shutouts. St. Louis will need to replace the 10 goals of Niko Gioacchini, who was sold to Serie B club Como.

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS

2023 RECORD AND FINISH: 12-10-12, 6th in the West, lost in opening round of playoffs to LAFC.

COACH: Vanni Sartini.

KEY PLAYERS: Ryan Gauld, Brian White, Yohei Takaoka.

OUTLOOK: Can Ryan Gauld and Brian White carry the scoring load again to the same level they did in 2023 and push the Whitecaps closer to the top of the Western Conference? That’s the big question for Vancouver entering the season. Gauld (11 goals, 12 assists) and White (15 goals, four assists) were the combined for nearly half the 55 goals Vancouver scored last season. The duo should get some help with the addition of veteran midfielder Damir Kreilach, but defensively is where the Whitecaps need to improve. Only Atlanta and Real Salt Lake allowed more than the 48 goals allowed by Vancouver among playoff teams.

Seattle Sports staff added to this post.

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Preview: A look at Seattle Sounders and rest of Western Conference