Sounders Weekly: The Attack And #TheFuture in 2014

With the departure of one or two forwards likely to happen in the near future, it’s time to look at what’s next for the Seattle Sounders FC — Jordan Morris may just be the answer.

With the holiday season in full effect and the ramp up to the January transfer window you would have thought that this week would have been a busy week in Seattle sports with not just the Mariners, but also the Sounders, on the cusp of some serious roster churn. You can count me as surprised that December 1st has come and gone with Eddie Johnson still a member of the Seattle Sounders. I had suspected that with a slow week of MLS news as the MLS Cup will feature a gradual build starting today and culminating Saturday afternoon, that you might be a maneuver by the league to garner some press over the course of the short and slow news week.

I was obviously wrong — although one of EJ’s latest Instagram posts indicates a move away from the club will come sooner than later.

I could still be wrong that one of Johnson or Obafemi Martins is almost assuredly on their way out. There are plenty of ways to build a roster and there are certainly different avenues that could be taken to free-up cash, find a midfield playmaker and keep these two brilliant forwards who are amongst the best plying their craft in the American first division called Major League Soccer.

That said the gain that could be had by moving Eddie Johnson is so massive it leaves a resonating taste in your mouth not unlike the feeling many of us might have had early Thursday morning as we waited for Turkey with the sweet savors of all the rest of the presumed trimmings — that at the bare minimum filled out my table.

However, the USMNT Striker has made it known that he isn’t asking for a move away from Seattle. The problem is Seattle doesn’t have any additional Designated Player (DP) slots available after elected to fill the last available position by rewarding Osvaldo Alonso. Should the scenario arise that Martins has a desire to play elsewhere in the world then the potential situation could present itself to resign Johnson as a DP.

A fourth alternative could still be in the cards; a situation where neither Martins, nor Johnson, return to the Rave Green this off-season. Where the Sounders are overwhelmed with the offers made by clubs for both strikers and they make the decision to cash in. While this isn’t necessarily remote, both have rumored connections abroad and their presumed price tags could retrieve allocation money from the league, I would stake this as the lowest probability of the four possible out comes.

That said with the club featuring the replacement level skills of David Estrada for most of the season as well as others (Ochoa, Joseph, ect)  being rotated through in lieu of the missing/injured Martins and Johnson the question on most fans minds is who can either step in and play at a quality level without investing a large portion of the cap into an important depth position. The answer to that is youth.

MLS has created plenty of ways to acquire young, talented players through a few different avenues while keeping things manageable for your cap. Wouldn’t you know there are players out there that the Sounders either are connected with, have at their disposal or will have the opportunity to grab through these different paths. Here is a short look a few players you may hear about this off-season.

Option A) Those Currently Available: Eriq Zavaleta & Will Bates

Eriq Zavaleta is a piece of the puzzle that could be either wasted or huge. Drafted last season after a bewildering drop in the SuperDraft, the Sounders scooped him right up and he looked right at home in his the eight matches. He even created a couple of scoring opportunities and one shot on goal that was specifically impressive. This pilled on top of an excellent season with the reserve side in which he was featured regularly at the top of the attack, rather than in the defense which was previously speculated. It’s still not known where exactly Zavaleta’s future lies with the Sounders but for now he’s someone who has scored buckets of goals in his short life at the college and reserve levels and has all the tools to become more than an average striker at the MLS level.

Zavaleta is still on a Generation Adidas contract–which is to say that his contract is not applied to the Sounders cap which makes him a natural fit for consistent starting 18 selection in the 2014 season. With the added possibility that during June he could step up into some playing time up top with Lamar Neagle.

Will Bates is kind of on the opposite end of things. While he had moments with the reserve team this season and was one of the top scorers in the country (44 goals in 76 games) as a member of the Virginia Cavaliers his physical tools and skills have been the subject of discussion and whether or not he can be anymore useful than, say, Estrada,  in the attack. However, I’m a bit more optimistic about his abilities.

Bates suffered an knee injury which forced him into minor surgery following the MLS SuperDraft and while he got back to the pitch by the early stages of the season I’m still bullish about the amount of time it took him and his skill to recover to the forum he was in back at the University of Virginia. He’s a reclamation project in the hopes that he could turn into a sort of Conor Casey poacher type of players. It’s more likely he doesn’t turn out but that doesn’t mean he’s not worth keeping around.

Option B) Potential Home Grown Players: Darwin Jones, Sean Okoli, Jordan Morris

In an interview last week with Beyond the Rave Green; UW Head coach Jamie Clark compared forward and Sounder academy alumni Darwin Jones to another former player from his days with Harvard, Mike Fucito. The basically Jones is a cross between a EJ-lite and Mike Fucito in all the ways that one would hope. A guy with a chip on his shoulder, works hard, is cocky and loves goals. Yeah, did I mention his incredible speed and feats of strength? He’d be a guy that could come in and be an immediate difference maker at the 80th minute.

Sean Okoli is kind of the forgotten a man in terms that he’s not local and not off at a big college such as Akron. Still, Wake Forrest has a solid program and he’s been a solid option for them the past two years and someone that seems to be closely reaching what he’s going to be without really spreading his wings. Okoli has the best mix of ceiling and floor of the trio mentioned and with minutes already with the reserve team Okoli could very well be the Sounders next HPG.

The Sounders Academy product looks very comfortable playing with his back to the goal. A prototypical #9 Striker, Okoli does well to hold the ball up and bring teammates into the attack. Quick and shifty while on the ball, his combination of strength and speed can be a handful for defenders. His biggest strength is quite simply his ability to put the ball in the back of the net. Has a real nose for goal, and can go on runs where goals come in bunches. – Charlie Nobile, MLS Draft Scout

Lastly, and likely to be drooled over, Jordan Morris is basically the next hottest and most coveted thing connected to the Sounders in the very foot steps of DeAndre Yedlin. While, Morris is hardly as noticeable with a conservative haircut and quiet demeanor off-the-pitch his blazing speed and amazing skill has plenty of people talking around the country. His form caught the eye of the US U-20 coach Tab Ramos on a couple of different occasions and even got him called in the U20 World Cup earlier in the spring. Morris is the winner of last years ESPN 2012 Washington Player of the Year and has shown all the skills promised in his freshman year with Stanford providing 6 goals on 48 shots and 7 assists in 1500 minutes for the Cardinals. A phenomenal list of  accomplishments for someone who hasn’t yet turned 19.

Option C) MLS SuperDraft Targets: Patrick Mullins, Steve Neumann, Mackenzie Pridham, and Victor Chavez

Think that college kids can’t support a competitive MLS Roster? Going into the MLS Cup all 5 attacking starters (assuming KC will use their patented 4-3-3 shape and RSL their 4-4-2 diamond) will have gone through the MLS SuperDraft, Robbie Findley (drafted 2007, 16th overall), Graham Zusi (drafted 2009, 23rd overall), CJ Sapong (drafted 2011, 10th overall), Dom Dwyer (drafted 2012, 16th overall) and Devon Sandoval (drafted 2013, 29th overall). It’s only fair to mention that Sandoval is only included due to the injured suffered by Alvaro Saborio but he’s done plenty to warrant the selection in his time with the Claret-and-Cobalt

Findley, originally drafted by the LA Galaxy back in 2007, is the only one of the five not to be with the original club who drafted him. The key take away here is what rookie Devon Sandoval (drafted #29 overall, 2013) has done in his time with Real Salt Lake. Now, he maybe more of the exception than the actual rule but there are some interesting Seniors that will be available in the draft, not to mention possible Generation Adidas that candidates that I didn’t include.

As far as those available for the 2014 MLS SuperDraft Patrick Mullins will likely to be considered top of the heap and one of the top goal scorers in college today. Should the Sounders find themselves with a top-5 pick due to a trade, it’s possible you could see the Sounders name associated with the Maryland striker. I’m not by any means a college or even pro soccer scout. There is a reason why I depend on statistics as heavily as I do. But back in spring Mullins lead the way in pre-season polls for the top male college player according to Top Drawer Soccer and lead to the following scouting report:

A versatile player and a dual threat with his head and feet, Mullins will often forego a shooting opportunity in order to feed his teammates. While he can play up top and look to receive balls into space like a true striker, Mullins is capable of mixing things up and positioning himself deeper in the midfield in an effort to link up with fellow attackers. He is just as happy setting up teammates as he is in scoring a goal himself. As a result, Mullins’ unselfishness and balanced game will likely be highly sought after at the next level. – Kevin Hopson, College Sports Madness

Again, Mullins won’t likely be the first name off the board. Though, with the area connections and DC United having the first pick its hardly improbable either. There are certainly reasons why Mullins will have question marks associated with his game and why it might not translate to MLS; add everything that the fact that he has a limited ceiling compared to those available for selection and it could push him down draft boards. That said he is a great senior find and someone whose high floor will enable him to contribute on an MLS level almost immediately.

Another name often associated with Mullins is Steve Neumann of Georgetown. 10 Goals and 6 Assists in 1700 minutes will get you some attention. Some boards have Neumann as high as the #2 man on the board (top draw soccer) others have him more of a mid 1st round pick. It kind of depends on how teams view the depth at this years draft and whether or not they’ll be looking to draft seniors ahead of some of the other talent on the board much like what happened last year. Ironically, it looks like the MLS’s crystal ball has the Sounders taking him… but this will change about 20 times, let’s not get ahead of our selves.

There are also two lesser names that are more likely to find themselves in the general vicinity(perhaps even beyond that) of the Sounders #13th overall and also are individuals that the Sounders front office have seen in persona few times. Cal Poly’s Mackenzie Pridham and UCLA’s Victor Chavez. Pridham has produced 14 goals by way of 30 shots on goal of 61 total shots. Basically that means he’s managing to put half of all his shots on frame and converting about a half of those. Which is all very good until you consider his competition and the fact that we don’t have a lot of context for those numbers (CONTEXT!). Pridham has some good stats but there are a lot more questions about his skills and how quickly he can adapt. He trained last year with Toronto and it’s possible that they could make a move for him.

As for Chavez, we all know Sigi’s affinity for UCLA players and though Chavez may be more of a midfielder but his ability to get forward and put himself in good positions is critical for a goal scorer and with 8 goals in 1400 minutes and doing that with only 18 shots on goal Chavez is a goal scorer. The added bonus is he doesn’t have to have the last shot as he also has 6 assists to his name and I’d be curious with only 35 shots, 15% of UCLA’s total shots, how many teammate he’s set up for shots. The question for him, as it is for many that produce on the college level, does he have the physical traits to adapt his game.

In summation to this extremely long winded post the Sounders have cheap options at their disposal to build positive roster depth this off-season the real question is do they take advantage of it or go another direction when it comes to constructing their 2014 club. There are a lot of various ways to build an organization and just because RSL and Sporting KC, teams that easily share plenty of commonalities, are playing for a MLS Cup it doesn’t mean that’s the new “vogue” way to do it. I mean there is always some new vogue way to win. The thing is we don’t have to copy someone else’s blue print to finally reach that big game and win trophies.

The young players mentioned under Seattle control will eventually be components to the Sounders future; Zavaleta will be used in some method this year it’s just about how and Morris will be a Sounder it’s just about when. Youth is something that is going to start steadily making it’s way to this club. But it’s about whether or not the Sounders want that to be this year.

#TheFuture & #ThereIsNoWrongWayToHoistATrophy