Finding the next Yedlin — Sounders making youth moves in draft, HGP

The Seattle Sounders struck HGP gold with the signing of DeAndre Yedlin last season — the question now becomes, who’s next?

Before last season’s MLS SuperDraft, the Seattle Sounders FC announced the signing of a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed kid from Akron University.

DeAndre Yedlin wasn’t some random draft pick, or even a draft-day trade — he was the Rave Green’s first Home Grown Player. Before heading to Ohio for two years, Yedlin was a star at O’Dea High School and with the Sounders youth system.

We didn’t know how he’d fit into our system, if he’d get any playing time or what hairstyle he’d be rocking once the season started. Fast forward one year and Yedlin had replaced a very good right back in Adam Johannson, became the first rookie All Star since 2005 and received his first USMNT call-up.

Looking forward to Yedlin’s sophomore season is exciting, but being that we’re still a few months away, we can take a look at the immediate future — finding the next Yedlin.

The two routes that have become more common in recent years for finding youth players are selecting in the draft and signing academy players/HGP. Historically, the MLS draft hasn’t been a goldmine for the Sounders — in fact outside of Steve Zakuani, the best selections have been Servando Carrasco, Andy Rose and David Estrada — none of which are/were big-name players for the club. Then there are the busts, such as Andrew Duran, Michael Tettah and so far Eriq Zavaleta (although I still think he’ll blossom — but more on that at some later time).

The Home Grown Player route so far has been successful — albeit 1 of 1. As recently as this weekend though, we’ve heard rumors that the Sounders HGP number could rise to as many as four by the time of the MLS SuperDraft in 10 days time.

The names Sean Okoli, Aaron Kovar and Darwin Jones are familiar names to a good chunk of Sounders fans — and all three could be on the roster soon via HGP contracts. In all likelihood only one or two of these guys will actually sign — and there’s a chance that none of them do, but both Okoli and Kovar have given some indication that they’ll be wearing Rave Green in a few months.

What the Sounders get out of this are young players that know the system, and possibly a future star like Yedlin.

Okoli is a forward, Kovar is a wide midfielder — one of those positions is needed more than the other. Okoli would be entering his senior season at Wake Forrest, Kovar would be a junior at Stanford. Both of which could forgo those collegiate seasons  to become professionals.

Kovar has played as a left midfielder with the Cardinal and the Sounders U-23 teams — right now the most glaring hole in the Sounders line-up is at that position. The forward position is one that’s become pretty jammed for the Sounders with Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Kenny Cooper, Lamar Neagle, *Chad Barrett, David Estrada, *Corey Hertzog and Will Bates all on the roster (*Barrett and Hertzog have not been signed to contracts, but the Sounders own their MLS rights), meaning that someone like an Okoli might be best served to sign an HGP contract and then spend a year with the reserves or loaned out to a USL-Pro side (much like Sporting KC’s Dom Dywer did for the first part of last season).

Moving past the potential HGP’s is the MLS SuperDraft, which takes place Thursday, Jan. 16 in Philadelphia. The Sounders currently hold the 13th pick in the draft, but as we saw last season, may be willing to trade and move up in the order if there’s a player they’d like.

Unfortunately I don’t spend much time following the college soccer world, so the draft — outside of the first few picks and local players — is kind of a surprise for me. So with that said, let’s take a look at the positional needs the Sounders could fill and the players that could be available there.

CM/LM — Depending on the Kovar move, the Sounders would love to find an athletic left midfielder in the draft that they could spend some time developing. Another huge need that can be filled through the draft is looking for a back-up to Ozzie Alonso, because as Will Farrell once said while impersonating Harry Caray, “when that thing burns out we’re all going to be dead.”

Players that could be available — Pedro Ribeiro, Coastal Carolina, Central Midfielder; AJ Corrado, Indiana, Midfielder; Marlon Hairston, Louisville, Midfielder

LB — Leo Gonzalez had a banner year for the Rave Green last season, but he looked tired at the end of the campaign — plus with the departure of Marc Burch, Dylan Remick is left as the only other LB for the team. There’s only one first round player I like in this slot and it’s the best LB in the draft — meaning if the Sounders really want him, they’ll likely have to move up.

Players that could be available — Ben Sweat, South Florida, Left Back

Out of all these possible first-round selections (I’m not even going to try and guess second rounders on), I’m most intrigued by Ribeiro — a deep-laying creative midfielder with good vision and an ability to make simple passes. I understand that the next Alonso isn’t in this draft, but if the Sounders had to trade up to the seventh spot to get this guy, I’d consider it. It’s also important to note that as a Brazilian citizen, Ribeiro would require an international slot — which I believe the Sounders have a few of.

Finally, a new feature I’m going to introduce as we get closer to the start of the season and training camp — today’s starting XI. I understand this roster is far from being set, but with that said if the season started today, who would be the starting XI?

I’m hoping this answer changes as we get closer to the start of the year. Formation is the diamond 4-4-2 that Sigi implemented last season, and I expect to see this season. Players with “?” next to their names I could/hope to see changing — possible replacement in parenthesis.

Stefan Frei

Jhon Kennedy Hurtado     Chad Marshall
DeAndre Yedlin                                  Leo Gonzalez

Brad Evans   Ozzie Alonso   Andy Rose? (Alex Caskey)
Clint Dempsey

Obafemi Martins   Kenny Cooper? (Lamar Neagle)