- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) - It still remains the one significant void in Seattle’s trophy case and until that spot is filled with an MLS Cup, the Sounders will remain unfulfilled.

Last season, the Sounders were on the cusp of winning the league title and doing what no MLS team has done: winning the U.S. Open Cup, Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup in the same year. Seattle had the rare indignity of winning its final game of the season - beating Los Angeles 2-1 in the second leg of the Western Conference finals - only to have its season end there because the Galaxy owned the road goals tiebreaker.

Falling short of that rare triple only fueled Seattle’s offseason. And with the labor strife between the MLS and players’ union settled, exceeding what the Sounders accomplished last season is the goal for 2015.

“I think anybody would say it would be extremely difficult to have the kind of season we had last year but we believe we have the quality in the locker room to achieve that and then some on top of it,” Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei said.

There is little turnover from last year, so the expectation is that Seattle should be able to pick up where it left off. Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins are both back for a second full season at the top of Seattle’s attack and should help create one of the more potent offenses in the league after last season, when they had a combined 32 goals and 23 assists in the regular season.

The only significant change to the starting lineup is with the defense after the departure of DeAndre Yedlin to Tottenham of the Premier League and the move of Brad Evans from the midfield to the defense.

Evans’ move into central defense leaves goalkeeper as the lone position he has not played at some point in his professional career. But the move allows Seattle to play Marco Pappa, Gonzalo Pineda and Lamar Neagle in the midfield at the same time. Osvaldo Alonso will also hold down the defensive midfielder spot once he returns following groin surgery.

“The opportunity at the end of the year was kind of talked about a little bit and I called (coach) Sigi (Schmid) in early January and asked ‘What’s the plan?’ because I wanted to get mentally prepared for one position and I want to play it well,” Evans said. “I think this will give me the best chance going forward this season. Only time will tell how it goes.”

While Evans is still learning the role of being a central defender, Seattle may be more solid defensively on the outside with the addition of Tyrone Mears to replace Yedlin. Where Yedlin excelled was using his standout speed to push forward and become part of the offensive attack.

Mears has European experience playing in the Premier League and briefly in France’s Ligue 1 and Seattle could be an overall better defensive club with the addition of Mears and move by Evans.

“We’ve been good that even when we’re on the attack we’re still in a good compact shape on the back four in case we do turn the ball over,” Frei said. “That’s usually the most dangerous time for a defense, when you are in possession, how is your shape, how are you defensively.”

There is no World Cup this year to tap Seattle’s roster, but the Sounders’ depth will be tested later in the season with their inclusion in the CONCACAF Champions League. It’s another trophy Seattle is shooting for, but the ultimate goal is finally claiming that MLS Cup.

“Hopefully, we can win a championship here and winning Champions League is a big part of it too where we try and do something really historic,” new Seattle general manager Garth Lagerway said. “That’s the bar we set for ourselves.”



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