'15 Season Preview: MLS Cup or bust for Sounders

(SportsNetwork.com) - Seattle Sounders FC have been one of the league's most successful franchises since making the jump from USL to Major League Soccer in 2009.

The Sounders made the postseason in their inaugural campaign and haven't looked back. They've won four U.S. Open Cup trophies, made the playoffs every year of their MLS existence, claimed one Cascadia Cup title and won last year's Supporters' Shield.

The one thing missing from Seattle's resume is an MLS Cup title, and that will be the only goal for the Sounders this season.

Sigi Schmid's club had an outstanding campaign in 2014, the club won 20 games and pipped the rival Los Angeles Galaxy for the Supporters' Shield in the final two weeks of the season.

But the Galaxy had the last laugh in the postseason as the Sounders fell to Los Angeles on away goals after battling to a 2-2 aggregate draw over 180 minutes.

Surely losing to a bitter rival one step before reaching MLS Cup final will provide plenty of motivation for this season. 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 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.

"Lamar is an attacking midfielder who plays smart and adds versatility to our club. He is a great teammate and positive presence in the locker room,"said sporting director Chris Henderson.

Pineda, 32, is another experienced wide attacking midfielder who joined the Sounders from Liga MX side Queretaro, where he scored one goal in 27 appearances. He appeared in 28 games for the Sounders in 2014, scoring three goals and adding seven assists.

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.

"Clint is a proven winner, a leader and a competitor who we believe will raise the bar for this organization on and off the field."

The Sounders also have some nice depth in the forward ranks with Kenny Cooper and Chad Barrett, but the road to MLS Cup final goes through Dempsey and Martins, and if they can stay healthy, the Sounders are early Cup favorites.

ACQUISITIONS: Tyrone Mears (D), Cristian Roldan (M), Andy Craven (F), Andres Correa (D).

LOSSES: DeAndre Yedlin (D), Cam Weaver (F), Djimi Traore (D), Jalil Anibaba (D), Tristan Bowen (F).

OUTLOOK: There is only one goal for the Sounders this season, and that is to win MLS Cup. Losing on the away goals tiebreaker in the Conference finals will sting, but with the majority of last year's club returning, especially Martins and Dempsey, the Sounders will once again be a force in the competitive Western Conference. Supporters' Shield favorites and possible MLS Cup finalists.