It was the MLS Cup final that almost happened but romanticism aside, the Montreal Impact is looking to win its first game of the 2017 MLS season, after losing 1-0 to the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium.
With Seattle also losing its first game of the season against the Houston Dynamo, the stakes are only higher for both squads. We talk to Dave Clark of Sounder At Heart to learn about the 2017 edition of the 2016 defending MLS Cup Champions.
1) After the slow start to last season, how did the Sounders turn it around during the second half of 2016?
There's a long list of things that went right from late July to December 10. There was an influx of talent both via signing and healing. Roman Torres recovered from his ACL tear and strengthened an already good defense into a great one. Alvaro Fernandez rejoined Seattle after years away. He added possession with a bit of verve in the attack. They also added the Newcomer of the Year, DP Nicolas Lodeiro. Nico adds to every element of the game. He is one of the better defenders on the squad, despite being an attacking mid. His vision and skill show up in passes that are unreal. He can score too. Lodeiro put up 8 goal, 8 assist numbers in just 19 regular season and playoff games. There's plenty of reason to think he will be on the MVP short list in 2017.
Lastly was the hiring of Brian Schmetzer. Firing the winningest coach in MLS history is a bold move. Schmetzer offered continuity for the rest of the staff and familiarity with the players. He deftly rebuilt a belief in the team and the organization. The tactics were simpler. The demand he placed on the players was simple and frightening - be the best story in the history of the league, or be remembered as the ones that failed the city. They responded with greatness. They became legends.
If any one of those four elements doesn't happen Seattle probably doesn't make the playoffs, let alone win MLS Cup 2016.
2) Who are the new faces in Seattle this season? Who will the Impact defenders need to pay extra close attention to on Saturday?
Harry Shipp, who needs little introduction, joined early in the offseason, as did Will Bruin. Both look to be rotational players earning some starts with a lot of appearances as substitutes. Gustav Svensson came in an a free from a team in China. At first it seemed he would be a depth piece, but injuries have the former defensive mid starting at right back. The best young draftee or homegrown is Henry Wingo. He goes directly towards goal looking to change games late and could develop into a great spark.
3) After beating Toronto FC last season in the MLS Cup Final, what are the expectations this season in Seattle? How do the Sounders build off the success from last year? What's the 'next step'?
The expectations are to compete for another MLS Cup, but without the awful first half of the season. We'll have to wait until next year for CONCACAF Champions League, but another deep run in that is on the list of "next steps." So would a domestic treble. Seattle won a double in 2014. There's LA's five Cups, but it takes a second for that to be a true target. Lastly, there are still tens of thousands of empty seats every game. An MLS Cup win should help fill some of those, but to be a true team of the city it will take more than just wins.
Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, Gustav Svensson; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Harry Shipp, Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro; Jordan Morris