A – Attendance: The Sounders have smashed league attendance records in each of their four seasons and will look to do the same in year five. A record 43,144 crossed the turnstiles each match in 2012. How high can that number reach in 2013?
B – Backline: After the trade of Jeff Parke, the Sounders were likely going to need a center back replacement and found just what the doctor – or Sigi Schmid – ordered in 2005 UEFA Champions League winner Djimi Traore. Early in camp, he was already pairing well with Jhon Kennedy Hurtado in the absence of Patrick Ianni, who is recovering from a fractured foot. They also return veterans Marc Burch, Leo Gonzalez, Zach Scott and Adam Johansson and have added promising youngsters DeAndre Yedlin, Eriq Zavaleta and Dylan Remick.
C – Centennial: This is the 100th year of US Soccer and the 100th year of the US Open Cup. The Sounders have always had success in the Open Cup and winning the tournament in a celebratory year like this would be a memorable feat.
D – Dozen: 2013 will be Zach Scott’s 12th season in Seattle, spending seven years with the Sounders in USL before playing the first four seasons with the Sounders FC in MLS. The 32-year-old defender had MLS career-highs in 2012 with 20 games, 16 starts and 1,437 minutes. He also registered his first goal in a 1-0 win over Colorado and his first assist as well, and added goals in the US Open Cup final and in the Western Conference championship series against the LA Galaxy.
E – East: The Sounders went 4-2-4 against the Eastern Conference last year and this year will have much less travel than in 2012. Last year their Eastern Conference road matches included games in DC, New England, New York, Toronto and Chicago. This year, they draw road trips to Toronto, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Houston and Columbus. That’s four East coast trips in 2012 and just two in 2013, making their travel just a bit easier.
F – Formation: With Fredy Montero’s loan to Millonarios in Colombia the Sounders are faced with a question of their formation for the first time in club history. Schmid has a wealth of midfielders in Alonso, Evans, Joseph, Martinez, Rosales and Zakuani, not to mention Carrasco, Caskey, Neagle and Rose. Fitting them all onto the field may take some tinkering on the part of Schmid, as well as a shift from the 4-4-2 they have used in nearly every match they’ve played.
G – Gold Cup: The Gold Cup runs from July 7-28 this year and with CenturyLink Field serving as one of the host venues, there will certainly be interest in Seattle. Add to that the presence of Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans with the US and Mario Martinez with Honduras and Sounders fans will have plenty of reason to pay attention to this year’s tournament.
H – Homecoming: In the last six months, two prominent locals have returned to the place they started their pro careers with the Sounders. Marcus Hahnemann played for the Sounders in the A-League in 1995 and 1996, winning championships in both seasons before moving to MLS with the Colorado Rapids, then England, where he stayed until last year. The Seattle native was retired, but came back and is now the club’s second goalkeeper. Meanwhile, Lamar Neagle joined the Sounders in 2009, and has twice ventured away only to return. Seattle brought him back in an offseason trade for his third stint in Rave Green, bringing the Federal Way native back in front of his family and friends.
I – Innovation: The Sounders have always prided themselves on their fitness and fitness coach Dave Tenney has added a lot in the last few years in terms of technological advancements in the field of sports science, highlighted by a yearly seminar with coaches from around the world contributing. This year, he has added two full-time analysts under his watch to help advance the club further in the realm of fitness and sports science.
J – Jerseys: Every two years, MLS clubs get new kits and this year the Sounders will have their third primary design in the club’s history. Those new kits were revealed on Wednesday evening in Seattle as part of the league’s “Jersey Week.”
K – Keepers: Schmid has never needed to worry about the goalkeeper spot in club history and this year, that is the most evident. Kasey Keller manned the net from 2009-2011 and last year Gspurning had the third-best goals against average in league history. This year, he’s back and healthy and backed up by a fully fit Marcus Hahnemann. With those two at his disposal, Schmid may have the best tandem in the league.
L – Loyalty: There are six players who have been with the Sounders since opening day. Alonso, Evans, Hurtado, Ianni, Scott and Zakuani have been through all of the ups and downs in Rave Green since 2009 and have been steadfast in their pride and dedication to the team, the club, the fans and the city.
M – MLS Cup: There is one clear goal for the Sounders FC in 2013 and while they certainly won’t shun the CONCACAF Champions League or the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, MLS Cup is the target affixed with a bullseye. There is a renewed focus on that goal after the team was ousted from the playoffs in the Western Conference championship series in 2012.
N – National Television: The Sounders are a draw on national TV and the league’s broadcast partners have taken notice. This year the Sounders are set to be featured 13 times on nationwide television during the regular season, with eight matches on NBC Sports and five on the ESPN networks.
O – Ozzie: Midfielder Osvaldo Alonso had a Best XI season in 2012 when he came to the forefront as the best defensive midfielder in MLS. He will miss the season opener after receiving a red card after the final playoff match against the LA Galaxy, but is still at the ready to build off the success of his fourth MLS season.
P – Playoffs: Only three teams have reached the postseason in each year of the Sounders FC’s existence in MLS. They are Real Salt Lake, the LA Galaxy and Seattle. RSL won MLS Cup in 2009 and the Galaxy took home the prize in 2011 and 2012. The Sounders will look to earn their first MLS Cup title, but first, they must reach the playoffs for a fifth straight year.
Q – Quality: In soccer parlance, the word “quality” is interchangeable with the word “skill” and the Sounders have quality in bunches. Be it Martinez or Rosales or Zakuani or Johnson in the attack or in the handfuls of players in defense, the quality is certainly there for Seattle, but will it translate to goals and victories? For quality to succeed it often needs a lot of cohesion, too.
R – Rookies: The Sounders have added three rookies to the defense in 2013 in SuperDraft selections Eriq Zavaleta and Dylan Remick and Homegrown product DeAndre Yedlin. How much impact can they make in their first seasons in MLS?
S – Supporters: We’ve all seen the remarkable tifo displays raised by the Emerald City Supporters. They have become renowned throughout the league and recognized throughout the world of soccer. Yet each year they find a way to out-do themselves. To what heights will they reach in 2013?
T – Tigres: The CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals open on March 6 for the Sounders against Tigres UANL from Monterrey, Mexico. Last year, the Sounders looked promising through three quarters of their series against Santos Laguna, but were dismantled in the final 45 minutes and lost 7-3 on aggregate. The aim isn’t simply to post a respectable result against Tigres, but to advance to the semifinal, where they will surely meet another strong opponent, but the Sounders are undeterred in their commitment to trying to win every tournament they enter.
U – Unity: Every team tries to manufacture some form of unity, whether it be through a catchy saying that the team lives by or through the actions of the group. While in Tucson for preseason, the Sounders were subject to a few galvanizing moments, and perhaps the most public was their video rendition of the “Harlem Shake.”
V – Veterans: The preseason additions of defender Djimi Traore and midfielder Shalrie Joseph do more than just help the Sounders depth. That duo has loads of championship experience, with Traore winning the UEFA Champions League in 2005 with Liverpool and Joseph reaching three straight MLS Cup finals while with the New England Revolution in 2005, 2006 and 2007. They are not only accomplished, but driven to win more and that’s why they were attractive to Schmid and the Sounders.
W – World Cup Qualifying: Just as they will be for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Evans, Johnson and Martinez, among others, may find themselves away from the Sounders at points throughout the season for World Cup qualifying matches. The US and Honduras both have nine more qualifying matches on the calendar this year and while MLS adjusts the schedule to avoid losing players for extended periods, the matches certainly add wear to the players involved. While those matches will certainly draw intrigue, there is also a strong possibility that Seattle will host a World Cup qualifying match for the US, as indicated by US Soccer President Sunil Gulati.
X – X-factor: Who is Seattle’s X-factor? To many, it is MLS Best XI defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso. To others, it is captain and playmaker Mauro Rosales. Mario Martinez and Steve Zakuani also make the short list. Any way you slice it, though, the Sounders will depend on someone within the group to do some work that may go under the radar, but define their season, in many ways.
Y – Youth: The Sounders FC Academy system has produced several players that have succeeded early in their college careers and propelled Yedlin to become the first Homegrown Player in club history. They have a sturdy crop of players coming through the system now, as well, making the future of Sounders FC as bright as ever.
Z – Zakuani: Seattle’s speedy winger came back from his fractured tibia and fibula last year, but may truly be back in form after playing a stellar game in the second leg of the Western Conference championship series against the LA Galaxy in November. Having an in-form Zakuani back on the field could mean a much different Sounders midfield than the one they had in 2012.