Sounders Weekly: Finding the next playmaker

With Mauro Rosales playing in Mexico now — well, Chivas USA — who will step up to be the Sounders next playmaker?

With Mauro Rosales playing in Mexico now — well, Chivas USA — who will step up to be the Sounders next playmaker?

To quote Charlie Boehm: “There were tears in Seattle this week.” Just one week ago today, I wrote about the questions that loom over the club, specifically Mauro Rosales and whether or not he would return to the organization. That question was quickly — and sadly — met with a response. That response can be viewed a couple of different ways, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Him retiring as a member of the Sounders organization would have been a swell little story to write and put away in our caps. The truth is that it’s not very often that—in a league structured in the manner that MLS that is—we get to have those nice end-of-a-career stories. It took Houston bending over backwards to have any part in that story for Brian Ching.

As woefully disappointing as it may seem to see Rosales headed south to Los Angeles basically Mexico, the deal worked out well for Seattle as they received an interesting enough, young, and not to mention cheap attacking piece, and the Sounders jumped up the table in the allocation order — for God only knows what reason. We all wish that Rosales could have stuck around, but financially the numbers just did not work.

This sets the stage for what will become the single most important question to answer in this off-season. It’s not about who puts goals into the back of the net. Whether that is Eddie Johnson (probably not), Obafemi Martins, or the recently acquired Kenny Cooper it’s actually not as important as it may seem. These individuals are all very capable scorers that can produce 10-15 goals per season. One of those pieces coupled together or partnered with Lamar Neagle up top is surely sufficient to give the Sounders a goal threat.

Many of these striking options for which teams pay an abundance of money often have no support in terms of assistance in creating shots. Players such as Mauro Rosales, Javier Morales and Federico Hinguian are a rarity in the designated player market. Unfortunately, they’re also the driving forces behind much of their teams ability to score goals.

The Sounders, being without Rosales, have to find a new way to manufacture shot attempts — they lack a true No. 10, a playmaker. Shot ratios, as I’ve mentioned before, are basically the currency for table placements. Finding a playmaker who can help the Sounders create more opportunities this season should probably be priority numero uno.

I say probably because it’s possible that the Sounders already have found their next playmaker. Not in some big free-agent signing…well, kind of. See, when they acquired Clint Dempsey they got more than just an individual with slick moves and the ability to score goals. Over his near 1000 minutes in MLS last season he created 23 key passes while also taking 39 shots and putting 11 of those on target. Mostly the picture has been painted that Dempsey’s tenure in MLS has been largely ineffective. This is a bizarre narrative, and one that I don’t tend to agree with. He hasn’t necessarily been the top shelf, all-around answer that I think most people believe they were going to see. That doesn’t mean he was bad, though.

Dempsey will play what will likely be closer to a 2,000 to 2,500-minute season — with all the various World Cup obligations. Based on last year we can project Deuce to produce nearly 105 total shots from his central midfield role. Mauro Rosales was involved in 88 total shots from the wing in almost 2,500 minutes. Saying that, shot production isn’t a strict method for extracting value, as not all shots are created equal. Converting shots to goals isn’t a perfect mathematical equation, and the variance of it fluctuates from season to season. You can’t assume that because 88 shots nets you a total 12 goals that 105 shots will net you any more goals than the previous amount. It potentially could net you less. The point is to create opportunities and chances on goal and maybe a good percentage of them go in. The more chances you produce the greater the likelihood is that you score goals, and 105 shots is still better than 88, by my math anyway.

The Sounders won’t depend on Dempsey alone in the playmaker role. Rosales became one of the only engines for this club and a key to moving forward is expecting more from the other members of the attack. Brad Evans this season will have plenty of weight on his shoulders as he was given an increased role in terms of leadership as well as a clear cut starting role in the XI. The emergence of DeAndre Yedlin‘s crossing ability is sure to increase the number of shots by the Rave Green, and with it goals, too.

One name that gets lost in the pop mix of those that support the attack with Dempsey, Osvaldo Alonso, Evans and Yedlin is that of Lamar Neagle—a man who also contributed the aid or finishing touches on 106 shots to the club through 2500 minutes and is a good bet to be one of the starting strikers. Who starts with him, whether that’s Cooper or Martins, is going to be an interesting narrative to see develop. The Sounders will most likely be looking for another playmaker of some kind out on the left side of their assumed diamond formation, as it’s a very practical move considering the very limited amount of internal options at this stage.

Losing Rosales hurts on an emotional level, as he was tied deeply to this city not just by the organization but by it’s community. His trade away from the club also hurts analytically as the club will be forced to depend more on Dempsey and Neagle in creativity and shot production. The Sounders shot ratio (0.95) was not encouraging last season, and now without Rosales, that could be an even bigger problem. Finding another player that can help facilitate shots on goal is important to this off-season, and as I mentioned, it’s job number one in my opinion the rest of the way.