'13 Season Preview: Sounders aim to build on playoff success

Seattle Sounders FC took a major step forward last season by knocking off Real Salt Lake in the MLS Cup semifinals before falling to the eventual champion Los Angeles Galaxy in the next round.

Since entering MLS in 2009, the Sounders have made the postseason party every year, but last campaign's triumph over their Western Conference rivals was the club's first playoff victory.

So, despite the loss, progress was made in 2012. Now the Sounders will look to build on that progress this season, but will do so with one major piece out of the picture.

Star forward Fredy Montero was sent on a season-long loan to Colombian side Millonarios in January, leaving the Rave Green with serious questions about where the offensive production will come from in 2013.

Montero, 25, came to the Sounders ahead of their inaugural season in 2009 from Colombia's Deportivo Cali and was one of the club's most recognizable faces during his time in the Pacific Northwest.

He is the club's all-time leading goal scorer with 47 tallies in MLS competition, which is good for the third most in MLS since the 2009 season.

Additionally, he contributed 60 goals and 43 assists in all competitions and was adept at finding clutch goals for his club, scoring 23 match-winning goals in all competitions.

"Fredy has been a fantastic player and pro for Sounders FC over our first four years," owner/general manager Adrian Hanauer said. "We wish Fredy the best of success with Millonarios as he continues to develop as a player. We hope this move helps Fredy's chances of being called up to the Colombian national team, as he has certainly earned it."

Naturally then, the question becomes how do you replace Montero?

The easy answer is you don't, but Seattle has several players on the squad that can help to carry the scoring burden.

One such player is Eddie Johnson, who had a stellar 2012 season in which he scored a franchise-record 14 goals -- many in spectacular fashion.

"I've been dying to get back to get with the guys. It's going to be a very exciting year," Johnson remarked.

Another player who will need to step up his scoring pace is veteran forward David Estrada. Estrada had a bit of a breakout year last term, appearing in 17 games, with 12 starts, and scoring five goals. He also netted a hat trick against Toronto FC.

Moving away from the forward ranks, an argument can be made that Seattle has the best midfield in the league with Osvaldo Alonso, Steve Zakuani, Christian Tiffert, Brad Evans, Mauro Rosales and newly-acquired Lamar Neagle.

Osvaldo is the rock that will boss the game in the middle of the park, while the others are all capable of providing fantastic service to the forwards.

Defensively, Seattle lost Jeff Parke in a trade with Philadelphia, but is still solid with Jhon-Kennedy Hurtado, Leandro Gonzalez, Zach Scott and Patrick Ianni likely to be in the starting 11. Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning is excellent between the sticks as he had the lowest goals against average in the league last term.

But Seattle's season will largely depend on how Montero's void is filled by Johnson and Estrada.

2012 IN REVIEW: Seattle had another exceptional regular season, finishing in third place in the Western Conference with 56 points. The Rave Green topped Real Salt Lake 1-0 on aggregate in the MLS semifinals, but fell 4-2 in the conference championship to the eventual champion Los Angeles Galaxy.

ACQUISITIONS: Lamar Neagle (M), Eriq Zavaleta (F), DeAndre Yedlin (D).

LOSSES: Fredy Montero (F), Jeff Parke (D), O'Brien White (F).

OUTLOOK: The Sounders should have another productive regular season campaign and no trouble reaching the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season. CenturyLink Field will be a place where the home side rarely loses. Johnson and Estrada must find ways to consistently put the ball in the back of the net, however, if the Sounders want to progress further in the postseason and compete for the MLS Cup title.