For the Seattle Sounders, quite a bit.
New season. New formation. New turf. Two new starters, and some young guys — although not technically new guys — off the bench.
All those were evident Tuesday when the club opened its 2016 campaign with a 2-2 draw in the first leg of its CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series against Club America.
▪ Starters: The match marked the Seattle debut for homegrown forward Jordan Morris and left back Joevin Jones. Both were generally impressive, but with reservations.
Morris almost got his pro career off to a dazzling start with an early header that nearly got the Sounders an early lead. Even without that, coach Sigi Schmid seemed generally impressed.
“I think he’s done well,” Schmid said. “I still don’t know if he knows exactly what city he’s in. … From that standpoint we have to give him some chance just to settle in.”
Jones flashed the speed Sounders fans have heard about, and was active going forward — perhaps too much.
Soon after Clint Dempsey gave Seattle a 1-0 lead, Jones charged across the center line and lost possession, which led to Club America’s equalizer just before halftime.
“Unfortunate time to give up a goal,” centerback Brad Evans said. “Little situations we can be smarter about going into the next game.”
Still, it seems likely that Jones will be an upgrade at left back. And even if Morris never quite becomes Obafemi Martins, his combination up top with Dempsey and Nelson Valdez promise to give Seattle one of the most dangerous multipronged attacks in MLS.
▪ Formation: The Sounders committed to a 4-3-3 before Martins departed, and that commitment remains.
However, even though the team has steadfastly fielded four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards, their interplay remains a work in progress.
“There were a few more tweaks that we did at halftime,” Schmid said Wednesday. “Every time you get into a game it helps you find something new. … We needed (midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz) to push a little more to the left, that would allow Clint to stay higher.”
▪ Reserves: The three Sounders who came off the bench Tuesday — Cristian Roldan, Aaron Kovar and Darwin Jones — are all entering their second or third pro seasons.
“I thought they did all right,” Schmid said. “It’s nerves. It’s different when you’re young and the expectations are extremely low when you get put in the game. Right now expectations are higher on each of those guys.”
If that rotation continues, it is an indication of the club living up to its often-stated goal of getting younger and more athletic with its supporting cast. A year ago, their minutes likely would have gone to departed veterans Andy Rose, Lamar Neagle and Chad Barrett.
The Sounders also had another second-year player on the bench: Tyler Miller, who has grabbed the No. 2 goalkeeper spot behind incumbent Stefan Frei.
“Tyler’s got good size,” Schmid said. “His feet are very good. He’s somebody that we think has a bright future. But we think (reserve) Charlie Lyon is also a goalkeeper with a bright future.”
▪ Turf: For the first time since 2012, the Sounders played on brand-new home FieldTurf.
This version features higher, thicker blades. It looked good in the stadium and on TV, and has been praised by the team as a notable upgrade.
“It’s a much truer surface to play on,” Schmid said. “It plays much more like a regular field.”