Seattle, WA (SportsNetwork.com) - The opening round of MLS fixtures will conclude on Sunday with Seattle Sounders FC playing host to the New England Revolution at CentruyLink Field.
It is an intriguing matchup given how successful both clubs have been in their respective conferences in recent years.
Seattle, a perennial contender in the West, fell short of its MLS Cup goal, but managed to secure the MLS Supporters' Shield, finishing the regular season with 64 points.
With plenty of U.S. Open Cup titles in the cabinet, the one thing missing from Seattle's resume is an MLS Cup crown, something the Sounders will be pursuing wholeheartedly this term.
Most of last season's team returns intact, and the club is certainly built for the long haul.
In defense Brad Evans and Chad Marshall will pair together in the middle, while Leo Gonzalez will likely slot in at left back, while the change in the back line will be English defender Tyrone Mears at right back replacing DeAndre Yedlin, who went to Tottenham Hotspur.
Mears, 32, comes to Seattle from Championship side Bolton Wanderers, where he spent the past three seasons. He has made over 200 appearances in England. In addition to his time with Bolton, Mears has had stints with Burnley, Derby County and West Ham United.
"Tyrone is a player we had an opportunity to evaluate over the past summer when he trained with us in Seattle and we were very impressed with his pedigree," said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid. "He's a fullback that is solid defensively, with the ability to posses the ball and to get forward in the attack. Tyrone is also a very good one-versus-one defender - a capability that is a key ingredient to success in our league - and we're excited about his future with our club."
In midfield Osvaldo Alonso returns the middle of the park alongside Gonzalo Pineda, while Marco Pappa and Lamar Neagle will occupy the wing positions.
Neagle enjoyed a breakout season last year as the Seattle native set career highs in almost every statistical category in 2014, including appearances (30), starts (27), minutes (2,409), goals (8), and assists (4). He was also a finalist for MLS Comeback Player of the year award.
As prolific as the midfield is, the star power is in the forward ranks and U.S. national team captain Clint Dempsey returns along with Nigeria international Obafemi Martins.
Dempsey, 31, powered the Seattle attack to the tune of 15 goals and 10 assists, while Martins followed suit with an impressive 17 goals and 13 assists, creating one of the most potent strike partnerships in the league.
New England has opted for a similar blueprint heading into the 2015 season, making minimal changes to a team that reached MLS Cup only to fall just short, losing to the Los Angeles Galaxy, 2-1, in extra time.
Revs head coach Jay Heaps will be hoping that continuity wins the day in Foxborough. The club lost just two of the 18 players that suited up for MLS Cup final last December.
Defensively, the center-back pairing of Andrew Farrell and Jose Goncalves returns in full. Farrell, a former No. 1 overall SuperDraft selection, slid over from right back to the center spot and excelled, while Goncalves, who struggled early in the season as he worked through a bit of a contract dispute, rounded into form late on to lead the club deep into the playoffs.
The club lost veteran defender A.J. Soares, who left for Viking in the Norwegian top flight, but the Revs have plenty of quality to make up for his loss.
Chris Tierney will slot in at left back, while Kevin Alston will play on the other side. Tierney is a versatile player who can play in midfield as well and gets down the flank to join the attack. It was Tierney's second-half goal that pulled the Revs level in MLS Cup last December, while Alston will provide solid defensive cover and can pick his spots to get forward.
The midfield is where the Revs' bread is buttered. Scott Caldwell and Jermaine Jones will sit in defensive midfield roles, while the attacking midfield trio is where the club truly shines.
Jones, the U.S. national team star, arrived in New England in August last season and was a key contributor to the team's success down the stretch, distributing from his defensive midfield role. With Jones on board for a full season, the Revs' midfield should be firing on all cylinders from the outset.
Kelyn Rowe, a former third-overall draft selection in 2012, will slot into a left wing role. Rowe had his breakout season in 2013 when he netted seven goals in 33 games played. He followed it up with five goals and five assists last season.
The 23-year-old Washington native missed some time in 2014 due to various injuries, but when healthy he is a key piece of the core of the team -- a young, hungry player who can get forward and unleashed some wicked strikes from distance.
The crux of the New England midfield is Lee Nguyen. Nguyen had a breakout season last year with 18 goals and five assists, which almost netted him the league MVP award, but the Texas native was trumped for the honor by Robbie Keane.
Nguyen made his living last year in the creative No. 10 role, and simply killed opposing teams by making late runs into the penalty area, usually resulting in tap-in goals.
Up top Charlie Davies returns to the fray, while Juan Agudelo returns from a year-plus sojourn in Europe.
Agudelo, 22, returned to Gillette Stadium on a four-year contract after leaving the Revolution to sign with Premier League side with Stoke City following the conclusion of the 2013 season.