Seattle Sounders Season Preview: New-look front line provides plenty of spark

Editor's Note: As the Seattle Sounders' MLS regular season opener draws closer, contributor Will Parchman will take a look at the team position by position every day this week, leading up to the team's match against Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field on Sunday (4 p.m. PT; FS1/KIRO 97.3 FM/El Rey 1360AM). In the first part of the series, Parchman looks at what to expect from the team's group of forwards after an emotional offseason.

Few teams have experienced the kind of tumultuous upheaval the Seattle Sounders have at forward this offseason.

In the span of three months, Seattle whipsawed emotionally between seeming eventualities. First, it seemed as though native son Jordan Morris might sign a professional contract with German Bundesliga club Werder Bremen in the offseason. After some uncertainty, Morris finally signed with Seattle in January to much fanfare.

That matter settled, the coaching staff turned its attention to the season and began gleefully playing with its attacking depth chart. Whoever came off the bench first, he’d be a firecracker.

Then, about a week before the first match of 2016 - a critical first leg matchup in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League against Club América - another bombshell dropped. Obafemi Martins was leaving for China.

Another shift, another tactical puzzle piece moved, another alteration to a rapidly changing front line.

Even with the shifts, the Sounders appear in the early going to be on solid ground as the opener to the MLS season approaches against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday (4 p.m. PT; FS1/KIRO 97.3 FM/El Rey 1360AM). Say what you will about the defense’s growing pains in the new 4-3-3 formation, but in an attacking sense, the Sounders have given a rousing account of themselves over their last two matches. They closed the preseason with a 4-0 win over the LA Galaxy in a driving rainstorm, and then scored two goals against an in-season Club América team.

In both matches, the front three was the same: Morris on the right, Clint Dempsey to the left and Nelson Valdez perched in the middle as the hold-up striker. At least for now, it’s hard to imagine that not being the first choice strike partnership for the rest of the season.

Perhaps the biggest question mark in coach Sigi Schmid’s new 4-3-3 was who’d fill the No. 9 role as the primary striker between the wider attackers. Valdez has rarely been that pure back-to-goal striker, and it certainly wouldn’t have fit Dempsey or Morris either. So the biggest boon to the system is the recently delivered news that Valdez can fill that spot ably. Or at least he has so far.

Valdez is a leaper, which became immediately obvious against América when he routinely out-jumped center backs and held off their advances to put through Morris, Dempsey and midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz.

With that issue settled, the only going concern was replacing Martins. While Morris is hardly a like-for-like swap, there are enough similarities in the full-bore physicality with which he plays that the attack shouldn’t miss much of a beat. Martins’ production the last two years in particular was astronomical, and expecting Morris to keep up with it as a rookie is perhaps a bit foolhardy.

But at least on paper, the front line is ready to go. The only issue may be depth.

The Sounders have talent on the bench, but they’ll have to overcome inexperience. At least right now, the main attacking options late in games are Aaron Kovar, Darwin Jones and Andy Craven, all of whom have limited professional experience. That’s not to say they can’t do some heavy lifting, but no doubt Seattle would feel more comfortable with a more proven attacking injection off the bench.

That said, the fact that Seattle was able to plug in Morris for Martins and lose so little so close to the start of the season should be a boon for an attack that will no doubt hover among the league’s best. If it can stay healthy.