Seattle Sounders: Last season's second half starting XI. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
While MLS First Kick 2011 is still nearly two months away, and Sounders fans are undoubtedly counting the minutes until March 15, when the L.A. Galaxy comes to Qwest, it's comforting to know that the team returns to the pitch today. It's rather like when pitchers and catchers report to spring training - you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. While a few Sounders, including Steve Zakuani, spent time training with clubs outside the United States, Tuesday marks the first time the team will train together since Nov. 7, that sad sad day when the Galaxy knocked Seattle out of the playoffs.
Over the winter break, the team has certainly changed, perhaps not dramatically, but significantly. Sanna Nyassi and Nathan Sturgis left via the MLS Superdraft. Pete Vagenas was traded. Seattle has signed Erik Friberg, O'Brian White, Danny Earls and Michael Tetteh. Many more, including Leone Cruz, have the potential to impress during these training sessions. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Brad Evans have recovered from their long-term injuries.
As the Sounders begin to gel into a team that will compete for the Supporters Shield, the U.S. Open Cup, and the CONCACAF Champions League title (hey, clubs should dream big), it's worth taking a moment to remember not the season that was, but rather the direction the club is headed. We've all heard reports regarding the possibility of Diego Forlán moving from Atlético Madrid to Seattle, and while those rumors will almost certainly not pan out, the fact that the Sounders are on Europe's radar screens after just two seasons is pretty significant.
Yet even while rumors center on a 31-year-old striker, Seattle is quietly going about its business bringing in young talent. The team is a model for MLS clubs, focusing on signing its young talent (Fredy Montero) to designated player contracts, or snapping up players from other countries rather than pursuing aging stars (Alvaro Fernandez, or even Erik Friberg). This is a club that wants to keep adding to its trophy collection and has a smart strategy for doing so. The Sounders place a lot of focus on their starting squad, yet remember to ensure that their reserve players are the best in the league. The Seattle Sounders played 47 matches, including friendlies, last season. Depth is key to remaining competitive, and as the team continues to build on its success in the past two seasons, there's no reason to think the silverware won't come.
This is, obviously, a broad overview of the Sounders offseason and a few reasons to believe that the team will go even further in the coming year. Check out She Paints Me Green in the upcoming weeks for closer looks on the team's new players, the potential of last year's stars, and the way that they can come together. Until then, just be glad the Sounders are back on the field. Scarves up!