Can Seattle win the Western Conference in 2013? (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Can Seattle win the Western Conference in 2013? (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Disappointing may be the word some Seattle Sounders fans use when they discuss the 2012 season. After finally making a breakthrough in the playoffs by beating Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference semifinals, the Sounders fell once again to the LA Galaxy in the conference finals.

So now a new year and season are upon us and Sigi Schmid has made some serious changes to his club before going into this new season. Fredy Montero is out on loan all season and now Shalrie Joseph is in to show that he still has it after a disappointing season with Chivas USA.

But has all the changes been enough to get Seattle over the top? 

2012 MLS Record: 15-8-11 (3rd in Western Conference), 56 points

[twocol_one]IN:
DeAndre Yedlin (01/11/13 – Homegrown)
Eriq Zavaleta (1/17/13 – SuperDraft)
Lamar Neagle (1/27/13 – trade from Montreal)
Shalrie Joseph (2/19/13 – trade from Chivas USA)[/twocol_one] [twocol_one_last]OUT:
GK Andrew Weber (12/3/12 – option declined)
O’Brian White (12/3/12 – option declined)
D/M Mike Seamon (12/3/12 – option declined)
Jeff Parke (12/7/12 – traded to Philadelphia)
Fredy Montero (1/21/13 – loaned to Millionarios)[/twocol_one_last]

Key Questions for 2013

1. How does Seattle replace Montero? The year-long loan for Montero means a few things for the Sounders. For one, it takes away a big offensive threat. It also takes away a guy that sometimes comes and goes on the field. Whatever way you look at it, the loss is a big one. From an outsiders perspective I would imagine that the Sounders will go after another forward DP later this year. Once they added Joseph and his DP tag earlier this week, it appeared that Christian Tiffert’s days were then put on notice. It isn’t like the German did a whole bunch last year for the Sounders anyways.

But say they keep him and Eddie Johnson continues to produce. At some point someone else has to step in and help Johnson up front. I think that is where a David Estrada or a Sammy Ochoa steps in and emerges as a scoring threat. We’ve seen Estrada do it in the past before getting hurt.

2. Can the defense improve without Jeff Parke? In my mind the biggest loss for the Sounders this offseason was trading away Parke. They had to do it and I totally get helping a guy out that wanted to go back home. Not to mention clear up a little bit of salary space. So who steps in? Does Joseph continue on as a center back like he did while he was with Chivas? Does a full back move into the middle? Or does rookie Eriq Zavaleta move to the defense like some thought he would back at the SuperDraft? Seattle has been auditioning veterans centerbacks like Djimi Traoré so it would appear that is the direction they are going with here.

If someone like Traore can step in and be a big force along side Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, then the Parke loss won’t be a big one at all in the end. Still, that learning curve of MLS is a steep one for foreign players.

3. Is this the year of the breakthrough? I look through the Western Conference and I see a lot of teams that are very similar to their 2012 self. San Jose will be good but I’m not sure if they’ll be better, LA and RSL are about the same. Vancouver and Portland appear better but you never really know. Dallas could be good if they are healthy while Colorado and Chivas appear like they still need work. So that leaves Seattle. Last year they finally won a playoff series so this bunch knows how to do it now. But the bigger story will be navigating the full season. I think the lack of games late in the year in the CCL will help this bunch out. Not reaching the CCL in 2013 was a blow to this club but only a small one. I would imagine this Sounders team will be fresher late in the year, which will go a long way in the playoffs.

Breakout Player for 2013

DeAndre Yardin – The young HGP won’t get a ton of playing time in his rookie season but the early reports out of Sounders camp show that this kid has what it takes to be a good outside back in MLS.

Predictions for 2013

- Seattle will reclaim Cascadia. I don’t see them letting their regional rivalry slip through their hands again this season. Portland is still rebuilding a bit and I’m not entirely sold on Vancouver’s offense just yet.

- They will go deep yet again in the USOC. Not really a bold prediction but it should happen yet again. I won’t say the Sounders will win the USOC this season, as I think a few other clubs will put serious stock into this tournament, but I do think the Sounders will come close again.

- The summer DP signing will help them out big time. I won’t get into where I think the Sounders will land in the Western Conference standings but I think an offensive DP signing this summer will be just enough to set them above a lot of clubs out west.