Where we stand

With about 20 days until the first Sounders training camp gets underway, there are still huge chunks of the roster to fill out. 10 spots remain unclaimed. Now, five are more or less spoken for, with 4 picks in the college draft and one player (who will in all likelihood be forward Junior Garcia) from the Sounders Super Search.

I’m going to make a couple of safe assumptions. I’ll say that the Sounders keep all their draft picks, and that their first overall pick makes the 20-man senior roster. Because if he didn’t it would be an awful pick. I’ll also say that Garcia, plus the other 3 draftees, make up the 4-man developmental roster, whose salaries do not count against the cap. Which still leaves room for 5 more on the senior roster. Throw Chris Eylander into the mix as the backup keeper, and that’s 4 major spots left to fill.

But how do we need to fill them? Add some attackers, defenders, starters, bench depth? To try and answer that, here’s a look at our best possible lineup with only our current players.

KSmith—Vagenas—Le Toux
(King, JSmith, Eylander, Nyassi)

That’s bad. Honestly, it is. Looking at that, we have 3 players who are clearly above average MLS talents at their positions (Keller, Ljungberg, Parke). Of those, one is injured, one is 38, and one might not sign with Seattle. Two others are around average (Evans, Jaqua). While Nyassi and King could be good sparks off the bench, the majority of the roster aren’t dynamic players, the ones who can control a game. What happens when Ljungberg is out? There’s nobody to carry the team. Jaqua needs service to score, Le Toux won’t transition to the MLS level immediately (if at all) and Khano Smith is less reliable than the Seattle Metro bus system.

Put simply, this is not a playoff contending team. Not even close. And there has to be significant additions to the roster over the next 20 days to get us there.


A Schmetzer Christmas for all

Longtime fans of the USL Sounders recieved a double early Christmas present at the start of this week. The first was a bit of a slip by new coach Sigi Schmid, with him mentioning that Chris Eylander would be playing understudy keeper to Kasey Keller. Eylander, both a Sounders fan favorite and one of the teams best players, had been considered a must-sign. If all goes well, he should be ready to take over between the pipes in two or three years time.

The second gift, however, was even better. USL Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer was given an assistant coach spot in the new Sounders regime. He led the Sounders to two USL titles, which nicely parallels the two Schmid has won in MLS. He also was the man many USL Sounders supporters strongly wanted for the Sounders FC head coaching job, but this way makes more sense. He needs to learn the ins and outs of MLS, an extremely complex and unusual league. Plus, as I suggested earlier, Schmetzer will immediatly become the heir to the Sounders FC coaching throne, should Schmid leave in two years or five.

So the longtime fans have been duly rewarded. Could any other former USL Sounders make the jump up - Taylor Graham? Kevin Sakuda? Kenji Treschuk? With only 10 roster spots left, and five probably tabbed for young prospects, the chances are slim. I'll take a look at that on Monday. Until then, happy holidays, and may you all recieve something rave green.

*CHRISTMAS EDIT* Holy crap do the new jerseys look awesome in real life


Shiny new update: I'm now writing for American Soccer News!

It's true, it's true. By now you've probably heard about the major announcement of the day. Yes, I am indeed taking my wit and wisdom to the slightly more popular website American Soccer News. I summarized todays other announcement, the signing of Sigi Schmid as Sounders coach, so go and take a look.

During the regular season, you'll be able to read my pre-game analysis and post-game recaps at that location, but I'll still be keeping this blog updated just as often. Maybe one day I'll even get that Jaqua interview we all want, too. I will be an official member of the press, so I should be able to get more inside information, in-depth coverage and just straight up interesting stuff more than any other independant Seattle sports blog. I'm excited and grateful to the ASN team for giving me this opportunity. Bring on March 19!


Latest Sounders signing is super... but Sigi's not the savior

Tomorrow the Sounders will unveil the worst-kept secret since... well, their last major announcement, the signing of Ljungberg as Designated Player. Funny how these things leak ahead of time.

In any case, at 11 AM PT Sigi Schmid will officially be given the reigns to Seattle's newest sports franchise. He will immediately inherit a fan base nearly large enough to fill Columbus Crew stadium to capacity. Many of these fans have high expectations - after all, Sigi did just mold the Crew into the best team in MLS this year. But those should be tempered. Sigi does have the pieces necessary to recreate his success with Columbus (and the Galaxy prior to that), but it will take time. And he might not be in Seattle long enough to finish the job.

As Crew blogger Bill Archer points out, Sigi has long had his eye on the US National Team job. He has twice coached the U-20 USA team, and having accomplished just about everything possible in MLS - and some of it twice - there's only one challenge remaining on his coaching checklist. Plus the Nats job would allow him to be based out of his current residence in Southern California. If being close to home was a factor in his choosing Seattle over Columbus, it certainly would be if the USA job became available. And should the current USA coach, Bob Bradley, be fired after the 2010 World Cup, you'd have to expect Sigi to want to take over.

So would two years be enough time for the silver-haired Schmid to create a winner in Seattle? His track record is mixed. His first year Galaxy squad were the regular-season's best team in 1998, but his first two years with the Crew produced zero playoff appearances. So it might not be crazy to expect a playoff team in 2010, but maybe a touch optimistic. As for 2009... well, we can dream.

To avoid running the risk of appearing like too much of a downer, here are three reasons that Sigi's signing is still a big positive.

- If Sigi adds on USL Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer as an assistant, two years might be the perfect period for Schmetz to learn the ins and outs of MLS. Then when Sigi goes, Seattle has a perfect replacement lined up.
- Sigi's biggest strength is his knowledge and usage of young American players. His record with international players is a bit more mixed. But GM Adrian Hanauer has a notoriously good eye for int's, having signed Le Toux and Nyassi as well as Maykel Galindo a few years ago. The two should compliment each other.
- Sigi was the best coach available. You can't argue with that!


Kicking it with George John

The MLS SuperDuperDraft is fast approaching, which will distribute the country's top college players to various MLS teams. One of these players is Seattle native and UW senior midfielder George John. I caught up with him recently via email and got his views on school, soccer and the Sounders. (I managed to restrain myself from asking about his lack of a surname.)

Ness: Were you disappointed with how this season ended - UW winless in their last five games and you injured? How far along in your recovery are you?
George John: Yes, I was disappointed with how our season ended up this year. It was very surprising to me how we went winless in our last six games or so. The most disappointing thing was I could see how our team was not playing up to its potential late in the year, however I couldn't be on the field to change anything. Getting injured was very unfortunate but I have managed to stay positive and am doing well in my recovery. I was just recently cleared to play.

Ness: You're both an All-Academic award winner and an all Pac-10 first team member. What's the hardest part about balancing your sport and your studies?
GJ: The hardest thing about balancing playing a sport and studying is missing class. During the season we travel often and I usually have to miss a majority of my classes. It's just a big headache having to get notes from classmates and make sure I don't miss anything too important.

Ness: How do you think you would best fit into the pro game? What position, what style of play are you best suited for?
GJ: To be honest I don't really care where I play in the pro game. Just so long as I get picked up by a team and am given a chance to show myself, that's all I ask for.

Ness: You're almost a lock to be invited to the MLS combine in January. Excited for that? Nervous? (At the time of his response, he had officially been invited to the combine.)
GJ: The MLS combine is definitely a great opportunity to show teams in the MLS that I have the ability to play professionally. I am very excited to get back out on the field, being injured has shown me how much I love to play soccer.

Ness: Your thoughts on the Sounders FC so far?
GJ: Sounders FC are led by a great staff and I'm sure they will succeed early on in their history. Everything they have been doing seems to be first rate and I was impressed with their pick up of Ljungberg.

Ness: Lastly, what (if any) European teams do you support? Any answer other than Man U/Chelski will earn my approval.
GJ: I like Inter-Milan, they play attractive soccer and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of my favorite players to watch.

As always, big ups to George for his time, and best of luck to him in the upcoming combine.


New to the blog? Check out our past interviews: National team member and KC Wizards star Jimmy Conrad, and Colorado Rapids midfielder/local lad Ciaran O'Brien.


Meet the Sounders new coach

Sigi Schmidt is one of the best coaches in MLS history. He led the Columbus Crew through the regular season with the top record in the league, and finished the year off with a victory in MLS Cup 2008. It was the first ever for the massive bananas of Columbus. With his contract expiring after the season, Sigi was always a candidate for the Sounders job, and those rumors were fueled even more with the news that Schmidt was in talks with Sounders brass. Sigi wants to be on the west coast. Sigi wants money. We can provide both.

Now today comes the announcement that Schmidt will not be returning to the Columbus Crew next season.

I wonder where he could possibly be heading.


A guide to understanding front office-speak

The expansion draft is over and done with, and if you've been living under a rock for the past 5 days, here's a link to all our new players. Not surprisingly, following the draft, Adrian Hanauer and Chris Henderson took the opportunity to talk up each of their choices. But what did they really mean? Here's a rough translation.

Quote: "Without getting in to too much detail, Nate (Jaqua) definitely, from the Northwest, liked the idea of coming to the Northwest. Nothing was certain until it was certain in terms of the expansion draft."
Translation: Yeah, there was a pre-arranged deal for Jaqua to come to Seattle.

Quote: "We felt this group would blend well with the players already under contract, and those players we have in our crosshairs for the future, and guys who we’re pulling the wagons on as we speak."
Translation: We wanted to draft a supporting cast for Ljungberg and Sigi Schmidt.

Quote: "Whether all ten of them will be there or not, I guess that’s certainly a question. We will have more players vying for a roster spot than roster spots available. So I hope they’re all there, but at the same time, we are going to try to bring in as much quality to fight for roster spots as possible."
Translation: I am not going to tell you guys anything about how this team is going to be constructed. You can torture me like Westley in The Princess Bride, but I still won't tell whether or not we trade Sturgis.

Quote: (On Peter Vagenas) "He’s been a winner at every level. To have Pete come up to Seattle, I think his veteran leadership is going to be very important for us."
Translation: Sigi wanted him. Get off my back, okay?

Quote: "When you compare Gaven and Evans, first, they’re both very good players. We’ll start with Evans. He’s an exciting central player. I think he was a very big part of Columbus’ championship run. He can score. He’s a competitor. He has a great desire to improve as a player. He’s not afraid to shoot from distance, and that was an important piece for us as well."
Translation: We took Evans over Gaven because getting a young quality starter for 33k a year is totally ballin'.


The Expansion Draft Pre-Func

At long last, the list of players exposed for Seattle to steal from has been finalized. There are some surprises, both of players protected and unprotected. And now the two masterminds in the Sounders front office are going to be putting in some serious analyzation, because in under 48 hours they must make their picks. And while nobody can say for sure what their strategy is, I think I'm pretty well qualified to take a stab at it.


Houston left Nate Jaqua (F, 160k) unprotected. So there's one player. A pleasant surprise was New York casting out Jeff Parke (D, 60k), apparently wanting to distance themselves from his suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. But Parke said all the right things, and thanks to NYRB's playoff run, has just 4 games left on his suspension. The positives? New York's best, most solid defender, one who can anchor a backline, at just 60 thousand a year. Yes, please.

Too Much Good Stuff

When a team is as stacked as the champions Columbus (congrats, by the way), they're gonna lose a good player. I'm going to change my mind on this one - yesterday I was sold on Brad Evans, but I'm going to have to go with Eddie Gaven (M, 165k). His only downside is his contract size, and he's good enough (and the rest of these players are inexpensive enough) that picking him makes sense. But if you prefer Evans, Pat Noonan or even Adam Moffat, I wouldn't argue.

The Question Marks

- Is Marco Pappa (M, 35k) able and willing to move to Seattle? He's currently on loan to Chicago, and that might the Guatemalan international from being picked. If not, he's the best bargain in the draft.
-Is Ian Joy (D, 120k) on his way to Europe? If not, he's a left-back starter for sure.

The Only Ones From Their Teams That Are Worth It

Johann Smith (M, 48k) of Toronto and Aaron Pitchkolan (D, 33) from Dallas fall into this category. The latter is a solid defender who can slot in anywhere, probably deserves a chance to start and might just get it. The former, Smith, I really believe is poised to have a breakout season. But if not, he'd at least provide a jolt of speed off the bench.

The International Defenders

Most of you will probably disagree with me right here. But allow me to state my case. I'd absolutely love to take Kosuke Kimura (D, 33k) from Colorado. He (mostly) started at right back for them this year and performed admirably on a team that was in various stages of chaos during the season. He was a player I identified early on this year (along with Ryan Johnson of San Jose), and I'm rather shocked he wasn't protected, as are many Colorado fans. Apparently he counts as an international player, but at age 24 he's still worth it. The other one is Gabriel Badilla (D, 120k) of New England which honestly is a bit of a gamble, but if it pays off he's a center-back starter to pair with Parke. He's been capped for Costa Rica, so he's no slouch.

Last And Possibly Least...

Kansas City exposed their starting keeper, Kevin Hartman, for reasons unbeknownst to me. It seems to make a lot of sense for the Sounders to take him, trade him to LA (his old club) in exchange for money/allocation, as the Galaxy have a gaping hole at the goalkeeper position. But if that doesn't happen, then it's probably a toss-up between 2 DC players. Defensive mid Joe Vide is tempting, but I'd prefer Francis Doe (F, 40k). I love his potential, and even if it doesn't develop this year, 40k for a semi-productive reserve forward is a steal.


So in summary here are my picks. I'd take 2 strikers (Doe, Jaqua), 3 midfielders (Pappa, Smith, Evans), and 5 defenders (Parke, Badilla, Kimura, Pitchkolan, Joy). The only 'hole' at this point is in defensive midfield, and that's because Kenji Treschuk of the USL Sounders will probably get a deserved crack at the starting lineup in that spot. These guys are all capable starters, save Doe, who would come off the bench with Pitchkolan and Smith. On talent and potential alone, it'd be hard to beat this group. But the best part? They make a combined $814,000. And with the salary cap around $2.3 millin, there'd be tons of money left for whatever international players we wanted. Hell, we could trade for another DP slot if we wanted! (Which I do not endorse.)

Of course, there's no way that this is how Wednesday's draft will turn out. But if it does, you Sounders fans should be pretty pleased.


March 21

According to league commissioner and grand poobah Don Garber, this is the date that should be circled, highlighted and exclamation-pointed on all of your calenders, ladies and gentlemen. And not just because it's the first day of spring. Or because it's exactly 4 months away.

Because it's opening day of the MLS season, and consequently the first game for the Sounders FC.

(Of course, some other stuff as well from the mouth of the commish. There's going to be no reserve league next year, so you south Sound folks around Tukwila are going to miss out on games that would have been played at Starfire. Montreal's giving up on their expansion bid... will that make Vancouver more likely? And Seattle officially has over 18,000 season tickets sold. Well done, us!)


Youth versus Experience

One of the most interesting choices in the expansion draft is going to be who the Sounders take from Chicago. And I say 'who' because the Fire are so deep, they are guaranteed to lose a player to us. While they have a number of quality players who have faint possibilities of being unprotected, I'm going to focus on the choice between 3 of the likely candidates.

Brandon Prideaux is the definition of veteran. At 32, he obviously has the age, and having played for 4 different clubs in MLS over 10 years, he has a wealth of experience. The fact that he is a Seattle native, UW alum and former USL Sounder will surely not go unnoticed by fans and front office alike. He is steady if a bit slow for an outside defender, and was a reliable presence in the league-leading Chicago Fire defense this year. He is apparently allergic to the net - he holds the MLS record for most matches played without having scored - but that's not too important for a defender. A definite starter for Seattle, if chosen, and will definitely be unprotected by Chicago.
That's the safe choice. That's the choice most Sounders fans anticipate and hope for. But I want to look very closely at the idea of taking a young, cheap player with upside.
Chicago has a few of those. In particular, Mike Banner and Dasan Robinson. The former is a short speedy winger, the latter (pictured) a speedy defender. Both have unquestionable talent and upside, both are 24 years old, both are relatively unproven but could probably get major playing time for most teams in the league. And the best part? Both have ridiculously cheap contracts, and would count little against the Scroogelike salary cap. (Well, to them that might not be so great, but hey, that's for the players union to quibble about.)

Personally, I think Robinson would better fit the Sounders attack-heavy scheme than the scoring-averse Prideaux. I think many people are overvaluing Prideaux because he's a local boy - that philosophy's been killing the Mariners for years. So assuming he is unprotected, which he should be, I endorse picking Robinson. And Dasan, I know you only make 45k a year, so come to Seattle and I'll buy you a steak dinner.
***MONDAY EDIT*** Interestingly, Robinson was protected by Chicago. Maybe they read this article and got scared...? And maybe I'm Messi in disguise. The point still stands - the Sounders should focus on youth, talent and economic value in Wednesdays draft.


The mystery of the missing coach

November 26 - MLS Expansion Draft
January 18 - MLS Draft
January 28 - Sounders FC Training camp begins
2nd or 3rd week of March - Inaugural Sounders FC home match
??????? - Head Coach is announced

As you can see by the above timeline, the expansion draft is fast approaching. In under 2 weeks the Sounders will add 10 players and finally have enough to construct a full side. The question, however, remains - who will be doing the construction? Logic suggests that it might be a good idea to have the coach in place prior to the draft, so an announcement should be coming soon. Like we haven't heard that before.

Adrian Hanauer is notorious for playing events close to the chest and not wanting information to leak ahead of time, so who knows how far along in the process the Sounders are. They may not have had the chance to interview one candidate, current Columbus head coach Sigi Schmidt, who has been linked with the job by multiple online sources. But since his side is heading to MLS Cup next Sunday, he'd presumably be unable to interview for a new team in between. And reportedly the Sounders were denied permission to speak with him. I've never thought Sigi ever had a chance of happening, anyways. He's about to have a bunch of money thrown at him by Columbus ownership, and he's crafted the Crew into the best team in the league over the last few years. I think he stays put.

The other major candidates are currently part of teams who already are out of the playoffs - Brian Schmetzer (Seattle) Preki (Chivas), John Spencer and Dom Kinnear (Houston), Paul Mariner (New England). All crashed out last week, save for the USL Sounders who went out in the first round of their playoffs. I would not be in the least bit surprised if some or all of those names are going through the interview process this week. With that timeframe in mind, the new coach very well could be announced as soon as next Monday, or in the days following.

Oh, you want a prediction? At the risk of sacrificing my stellar prognostication reputation, I think Preki gets the nod.


The most efficient players in MLS

Major League Soccer has a dearth of statistical information. Certainly less than the other major sports in America. So here is the start of my effort to change that.

What I have done is taken all the attacking players (strikers and midfielders) and calculated how often they either score or get an assist. It's a way of looking at the raw numbers to try and account for factors like injuries or national team callups. Without further ado, Adu or Edu, here are the 10 most efficient players in MLS for the 2008 season. The number is in minutes per point scored (assists or goals).

73.66 Donovan LAG
85.23 Barros Schelotto CLB
93.05 J. Moreno DCU
93.71 Eskandarian CHV
101.00 Casey COL
109.50 Gordon LAG
112.63 Jaqua HOU
114.33 Ralston NE
115.00 Angel NY
116.44 Ching HOU

Quick thoughts - You would obviously expect strikers to score higher on these totals, as they are most involved with the offensive attack. So a guy like Schelotto totaling a point every 85 minutes is amazing. That's more than a goal or assist a game! So with that in mind, Steve Ralston of New England had a brilliant and underrated season as well. Alecko Eskandarian didn't play as much as some of these guys, but he was damn efficient when he did. And what's Alan Gordon doing on this list?

It's way late so I'll have more numbers in the morning. Want the whole list, email me.


Breaking down the new Sounders star

So it's been official for a few days now - Swedish soccer star Freddy Ljungberg has been signed to the Sounders FC for two years, and will be the attacking midfielder in what should be an attack-minded formation. To Freddy, should you read this (hah), I welcome you to our fine city, hope you enjoy your time here and with the Sounders and look forward to watching you play in April.

Alright, enough pleasantries. His signing is a very high-risk, high-reward one. So how's he gonna do? Hard to say, obviously, but I think his acquisition is reminiscent of 3 major signings in MLS over the last year and half. Those would be Darren Huckerby, Marcello Gallardo and David Beckham. Take a little bit from each of those guys and you have a good approximation of what Ljungberg should be like in his time with the Sounders. Huckerby for his ability to light up an expansion team and be a tough team leader, Gallardo for his skill in central midfield - and also his liability to injury, and Beckham obviously for the star power and sexiness.

Now, there has been much discussion of Ljungberg's health, after being cut from his last employer, West Ham, while he was injured. That wasn't the only reason he was let go, however. Although it hasn't been widely reported, or indeed reported at all, this past summer Freddy was dealing with some very serious issues in his family back in Sweden, and reportedly he asked for his release. Out of respect for him I don't want to talk about those details, but the point is he shouldn't be as banged-up as most people think he is. He believes, anyway, that he is still not far removed from his peak as a player, and I have no reason to doubt him.

Should he go out due to injury, he will need a capable backup so the Sounders attack doesn't implode like Iceland's banking system. Ciaran O'Brien, who was loaned to the USL Sounders from Colorado (where he never plays), would seem to be a perfect fit. Go get him, Adrian!


The Freddy and Freddie show

By now, news that former Arsenal and Sweden star Freddie Ljungberg has been seen in Seattle is going around the internet. Reportedly, the winger slash model will be returning to town next week (October 30?) to announce his signing. Presumably he would be the Sounders Designated Player, as he'd probably command over the MLS maximum of 400k. Whether this would be a good signing, economically speaking, is still highly up for debate. Read: I'm not sure. His health has been an issue, so that's a huge wild card. If and when that signing does officially occur, we'll know much more about his current quality and form.

There are no questions, however, about the talent of Freddy Montero. According to a Spanish website, the Columbian youngster's rights have officially been bought by Seattle - in a transaction nearly 2 weeks ago! In fact, they are reporting that Deportivo Cali has already recieved the 2 million dollars transfer fee from the Sounders. Leaving aside the unlikely possibility that the entire thing is completely made up, the next question is this - why hasn't it been more widely reported? Well, there are multiple other teams from more respected leagues (Argentina and Europe) still looking to sign Montero. My best guess is that Seattle is strongly considering selling him on to one of those clubs, and as such don't want his signing announced in case he never puts on a Sounders uniform.


Your chance to ask Nate Jaqua

Have a question you'd like to ask a top striker in MLS? I'll be talking with Houston Dynamo forward Nate Jaqua, who has featured for the national team, is also an Oregon boy and is a very possible Sounder in 2009. So if you have something you'd like to ask, let me know. Post in the comments or send me an email by Friday morning.


It's Columbus Day!

It seems appropriate to celebrate the best team in Major League Soccer on Columbus Day. So let's give it up for the Crew, the Supporters Shield winners of 2008 and the unquestionable top squad in the league. Columbus tends to not get a lot of respect (admittedly, I think I picked them to miss the playoffs at the start of the season) so their storybook season is all the sweeter.The obvious question arises: how did they do it? What caused their transformation, in just one offseason without many changes, from a bottom-of-the-league side into a yellow and black wrecking ball? The obvious answer seems to be having Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who is more like a magician than a soccer player, for a full season. Their midfield maestro has racked up almost 20 assists in just over 20 games, and is one of two serious candidates for MVP honors. (The other, obviously, is LA's Landon Donovan.) But although GBS is an essential part of their team and a real delight to watch, it's not all on his Argentinian shoulders. The Crew have won with and without him. No, the answer isn't just one or two players - it's all of them.

No side has more top-to-bottom talent than the Crew, save maybe Houston, the top club in the West. Columbus has very capable defenders, with starter-quality players going 5 or 6 deep and led by veteran fan-favorite Frankie Hejduk. They have more than capable goalkeeping, with Will Hesmer having the season of his life. The midfield is led by Schelotto, but there's quality from him to wings Robbie Rogers and Emmanuel Ekpo to CDM Brian Carroll. They're so stacked for talent that the excellent Pat Noonan, recently back from Europe, is largely superfluous. Their substitutes are by far the best in MLS. And the fans have responded with greatly improved crowds and invigorated supporters groups, proving that the Buckeyes aren't the only game in town.

The teams with the biggest stars have been the biggest flops this year, with DC United and the LA Galaxy having hugely dissappointing seasons. So hat's off to the Columbus Crew, showing the league that the key to winning in Major League Soccer is to assemble an all-around talented squad, even if the names are a little less flashy. But you'd better win the Cup this year, Columbus. I sure won't be cheering for you in 2009!


Sounders sign South American striker?

Adrian Hanauer's scouting trips are already paying dividends, if the growing buzz is to believed. If so, then the Sounders are about to sign Freddy Montero, a 5 ' 8", 21 year old Columbian striker (who also features at attacking midfield) who has played for Columbia's national team. The speedy, extremely talented Montero had been linked with a move to a powerhouse club in Romania, but apparently is on his way to Seattle for a huge transfer fee of 2 million dollars. (I am fairly certain that the transfer fee would NOT count against the salary cap, meaning Montero would not necessarily be a Designated Player.) Montero also shares an agent with Jamison Olave of Real Salt Lake, who came to MLS from Montero's current club this year.

The deal has not been finalized or confirmed by either the Sounders or Montero's current team, Deportivo de Cali. There is the possibility that the Sounders may just be buying his contract in order to send him on to Europe. The story is all over the internet, and while I do speak/understand Spanish, I don't know how reputable the apparent original source (enlajugada.com) is. *****UPDATE***** All the Sounders will say is that he is a 'player of interest' at the moment, but leaks suggest otherwise. Montero is currently off with his national team for two games - so perhaps the deal won't be confirmed until after that, late next week.


The Sounders FC roster breakdown

18 spots on the senior roster
3 players signed: Kasey Keller (GK), Sebastien Le Toux (F/M), Sanna Nyassi (M)
10 picks incoming from the expansion draft
3-4 USL Sounders being called up
3-4 international signings (roughly)
1-2 college players from MLS SuperDraft

As you can see, there are probably going to be more players incoming than there are spots. So some trades are going to have to happen. In reality, probably only about 7 of the expansion draft picks will actually be Sounders - the others will traded elsewhere for future draft picks, allocation money, or something like that. So take 7 players from there and add the 3 signed already. For the USL players, Chris Eylander (GK) and Taylor Graham (D) are almost locks, and probably either Kenji Treschuk (M) or Josh Gardner (M) gets called up as well. So that's a total of 13. Add the top draft pick for 14, and there's 4 spots left for international signings to create the worldly team the Sounders want so much. Over the next 6 months, the roster dealings should turn out pretty close to this.


Speed and the international game

Seattle MLS has huge ambitions, including becoming well known and successful both domestically and internationally. And with the CONCACAF Champions League in full swing, that got me thinking about how we can accomplish some of those goals.

And so here’s something that I’m just beginning to realize about MLS. We are not a fast league. We have a distinct lack of players with great pace. It has only just become apparent to me from watching some of these international games, where Chivas, New England and others are simply being outrun. Just this evening, Maraton of Honduras clearly outplayed DC primarily because of their speed, and this just shouldn’t be happening. I’m beginning to think this is why random little speedsters can come into MLS and be major players for their clubs. Take just this year, for example – Danleigh Borman* of New York was a supplemental draft pick, and Boise (er, Boyzee) Khumalo came up to DC from a USL2 club. Both of them have been sparkplugs, and Khumalo’s been the best player on the pitch for DC in the CONCACAF games I’ve seen them play.

Anyways, the point is that if Seattle is going to be a competitive club in international play**, we’ll have to be able to deal with speedy little guys better than these other teams have. I don’t want to see the Sounders lose 4-0 to Joe Public FC. Ever. And I don’t think Mr. Hanauer, Mr. Roth or Mr. Carey would, either. Having a few burners, as well as outside defenders capable of dealing with pacey players, is something I think’ll be necessary to prevent that.

*Speaking of which, he should be available in the expansion draft. He’d be a great guy to bring off the bench in the 75th minute…

**Speaking of which, I'm digging the idea of the Sounders entered the Pan-Pacific Championship. It’s meaningless, but if we entered next year I think it’d be a great way for Seattle to get media attention right away, as well as a first test against international competition and a chance for the new team to gel prior to the MLS season starting. I mentioned this to Adrian Hanauer, who replied "...Pan Pacific is out of our hands. This is a tournament run by Soccer United Marketing. Actually, it is not yet clear which teams will be participating in the next tournament." So while the Sounders can't actively pursue a spot, they could still be invited. We'll have to wait and see.


The coaching candidates

Within a month or two, the first-ever Sounders FC coach will have been anointed. The Sounders front office has a list of potential candidates, but they won't tell anyone who is on it, save the one blindingly obvious possibility. It might not be current Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer, however, because they 'want someone with MLS experience.' If he doesn't get the head job, I fully expect Schmetzer to be named as assistant coach. With that in mind, here are my top 5 most-likely coaching candidates for the Sounders.

Current job: Head coach, Chivas USA
Northwest connection: 1 year with Tacoma Stars, good friend of Brian Schmetzer
Positives: Knows MLS extremely well and would have great insight on current players in the league, would work well with Schmetzer as an assistant coach, is relatively young, could coach an attacking style.
Negatives: Controversial among Chivas fans – has been criticized for tactical decisions and a perceived inability to motivate. His squad has underperformed this year.
Random fact: Is the only 2-time MLS MVP (’97. ’03) and the all-time MLS leader in points.

Brian Schmetzer
Current job: Head coach, Seattle Sounders (USL)
Northwest connection: Born here, grew up here, played here (1980-83, 85), coached here (1988-present)
Positives: Knows the city of Seattle and many Sounders players, already works well with GM Adrian Hanauer, has proven USL track record of success, is loved by USL Sounders fans.
Negatives: Reportedly the Sounders FC want someone with MLS experience, and Schmetzer has none. Might not be able to deal with the egos of big-money star players.
Random fact: Before coaching the Sounders, he simply ran his construction business and coached his son’s youth team.

Fernando Clavijo
Current job: nope
Most recent job: Head coach, Colorado Rapids
Northwest connection: Coached Seattle Seadogs (1995-97)
Positives: Has coached with Schmetzer before, is good at developing young players.
Negatives: Was not very good in his time with Colorado, little team success, perennial underachievers. Not a good tactician. Hated by Rapids fans.
Random fact: Once coached an indoor team called the Florida ThunderCats. I kid you not.

Peter Nowak
Current job: Assistant coach, U.S. National Team
Northwest connection: none
Positives: Great all-around coach, knows MLS and US players extremely well, won an MLS Cup in 3 years as D.C. United head coach.
Negatives: Underperformed as coach of USA Olympic team this summer. Probably isn’t interested in Sounders job.
Random fact: Captained the Polish national team for 3 years in his playing days.

Paul Mariner
Current job: Assistant coach, New England Revolution
Northwest connection: none
Positives: Regarded as the top assistant in MLS, works very well with players, has stated his desire for the Sounders job, would provide an opportunity for countless ‘Seattle Mariner’ puns.
Negatives: Has not been a head coach at a level higher than youth soccer, might not be able to coach the attacking style of soccer Seattle wants.
Random fact: Scored the winning goal for England in a do-or-die match that sent them to the 1982 World Cup.

Other possible candidates include Crew coach Sigi Schmidt and Houston assistant John Spencer, but I don’t think either of them will take the job. Sigi is probably happy with league-leading Columbus, and Spencer probably would prefer the Colorado job, as he was a fan favorite there in his playing days.

The verdict? I'd prefer Preki or Nowak, but I expect Mariner to be named the head coach eventually. And that's not a bad thing, he's a very strong candidate. But, as always, we will have to wait and see.


The future: Marcus Tracy

"A game-changer with speed and skill... Very dominant in the air..."

Among the many things Seattle's MLS franchise has going for it - the Sounders will have the number 1 pick in the MLS College draft. They will have the ability to add to their team any 1 player, at any position, from any college team in the country. Some might mock this draft as being outdated or an ineffective way to add quality players, but the #1 pick is different. This is where the Freddy Adu's and Marvell Wynne's join MLS. And Seattle will have a chance to add the next one.

"Capable of scoring with head and feet... A threat at any moment..."

These are some of the words that Wake Forest's website uses to describe Marcus Tracy, their star senior striker who just might be the best college player in the country. At 6'1", 170, he possesses enough size to go up against any defender, as well as the speed to blow past them. He is a prototypical striker, one who led his team to the college championship last year and has kicked off his final Wake Forest season by scoring 4 goals (3 of them game-winners) in 4 games. Even with his 31 points racked up last year, he might not have the sexiest statistical resume in the country, but he almost indisputably has the best skill set among college players. Tracy's upside is tremendous.

"Continues to flourish and improve with experience and physical maturity... "

The only knock anybody has on Marcus Tracy is his health - he was hurt for most of 2005 and some of 2006. If he stays healthy through this year, then those questions can probably be put to bed. With those aside, what you have in Tracy is a ridiculous athlete, a good teammate and a very smart young man - he passed on turning pro last year in favor of completing his economics degree at Wake Forest. By all accounts he is a fantastic college prospect - one who the Sounders should be considering very, very strongly with their first pick in the draft come January of 2009.
See the future in action here and here.


Say hello to Sanna

The Sounders have signed their third player for the 2009 season, and it's the first one you've probably never heard of. 19 year old midfielder Sanna Nyassi, from Ghana, is their newest addition.

Sanna, just 5'8", is the twin brother of Sainey Nyassi, a midfielder for league power New England who has 2 goals in 14 starts/18 games. Sanna is a similar player to his brother, as he has pretty good technical skills, an okay shot and ridiculously quick pace. Sainey is an extremely talented young player, and Sanna hopefully will prove to be the same. He'll play out the rest of the year on the USL Sounders before joining the big club in 2009, and I'd expect that to be on a full senior contract instead of a developmental one. (Translation - he'll make around 35k next year.) I'd say he projects to be a wing player in MLS, but that's just my opinion. In all regards, this is a good signing - a low risk, high reward young player. Welcome aboard, Sanna.

Official team announcement

(Oh man am I going to mix up their names so many times you have no idea)


What to learn from San Jose

The USL incarnation of the Sounders is preparing for a friendly against the San Jose Earthquakes tomorrow, and many storylines are evident. It is the last road game until the playoffs, the first in 3 years against their former NASL brethren, and a compelling match against the hottest team in MLS.

Yes, expansion club San Jose is on fire right now, and in the wild Western Conference, they have as good a shot as anyone (except for the team in orange) to make the playoffs. Led by mid-season pickups of Arturo Alvarez and Darren Huckerby, the Quakes have gone unbeaten in their last 7 games. It's likely that neither of these two players will see the field in their match against the Sounders - which will be more interesting for the stories off the pitch than the action on it. But that doesn't change the fact that the Quakes have been doing something right recently. And if they can do it this year, so can Seattle next year.

The question, obviously, is what that is. During their current run of good form, the Quakes have been statistically most impressive on the defensive end, with just 6 goals given up in the last 10 games. But none of the changes San Jose has made recently have been on defense! They're basically sticking with the same back 4, led by Nick Garcia. So let's look to the keeper, the reliable Joe Cannon. He has performed admirably this year, with just a 1.18 Goals Against Average (3rd best in MLS) and with 8 shutouts (2nd best). But over his last 9 games (he didn't play in 1 of the last 10) he's been nothing short of amazing. He's faced 40 shots on frame, and has allowed but 6 goals. Over this stretch, 85% of the time when a shot is put on the Earthquakes goal, Joe Cannon has been on hand to keep it out.

In a fiercely competitive league, having a consistent (Cannon's played in every MLS match) and quality (1.18 GAA!) keeper can make the difference between being in the playoffs or watching them from the couch. The Sounders have theirs for next year in Kasey Keller, and they hopefully have theirs for the future in Chris Eylander, whose cat-quick reflexes are reminiscent of a certain MLS goalie. Eylander will hope to come from the USL into MLS as a backup before getting his chance at starting a couple years later... just like Cannon did.

If the Sounders FC wish to succeed in MLS, they will need a quality man between the pipes. Although Eylander has all the tools to be great, that often doesn't translate into MLS success (see Wells, Zach and Cronin, Steve). Tomorrow night, in an otherwise meaningless game for both sides, Chris Eylander will face off against the goalie he should aspire to be, and that Sounders fans hope he can become.


My expansion draft wishlist

Looking for players in MLS to keep your eye on? Here are 10 players I think will be available in the expansion draft for the Sounders that would be worth picking up.

Brandon Prideaux – Chicago, Defender
Brian Carroll - Columbus, D-Midfielder
Nate Jaqua- Houston, Striker
Justin (NOT Ryan) Braun – Chivas USA, Striker
Julius James – Toronto, Defender
Khano Smith – New England, Wing Midfielder
Santino Quaranta – DC United, Striker
Ian Joy – Real Salt Lake, Defender
Omar Cummings– Colorado, Midfielder
Aaron Hohlbein – KC, D-Midfielder

Of these 10, Prideaux and Carroll are the established and savvy veterans, and Cummings and James the high-upside rookies. The rest fall somewhere in between. All would look good in a Sounders kit next year.


The effect of a designated player

The cloud constantly hovering around the Sounders FC is whether they will sign a designated player, and if so, who it will be. 5 teams in MLS currently have DP's on their roster; DC United has two. How are those teams doing?

Chicago Fire. DP: Cuahtemoc Blanco. Points: 32. Rank: 3rd (of 14).
DC United. DP: Luciano Emilio, Marcelo Gallardo. Points: 28. Rank: T5th.
Kansas City Wizards. DP: Claudio Lopez. Points: 25. Rank: T8th.
LA Galaxy. DP: That Beckham guy. Points: 24. Rank: T11th.
NY Red Bulls. DP: Juan Pablo Angel. Points: 25. Rank: T8th.

Honestly, there's not a lot to be made here because there's so much parity in MLS this year. Just 13 points separate the best team from the worst. But clearly, having a designated player does not immediately translate to wins. Just look at the MLS Cup finalists of last year, New England and Houston, and the top teams in each conference this year, which are... uh, New England and Houston.

Obviously, the purpose of a DP is not just to win, but also to 'sell' the team, locally and nationally. And in this case, the rule (and those players added under it) has been working quite well. Los Angeles leads the league in attendance by a wide margin, with DC and Chicago in 3rd and 4th respectively. If you're watching SportsCenter for some unfathomable reason and you see an MLS highlight, chances are it's a Marcello Gallardo wonder strike or a Blanco bomb. And if you by chance see someone wearing an MLS jersey, there's a 75% chance of a Los Angeles kit, number 23. Roth and Hanauer know this, and will surely be looking for someone to rival the appeal of the aforementioned three players.

Appeal, obviously, isn't everything. Remember Denilson, the aging Brazilian star FC Dallas picked up last summer? If you don't, here's a recap: he was out to make a quick buck, was out of form, and his team crashed out of the first round of the playoffs before he was sent out of Dallas altogether. If used improperly, the DP can have huge negative effects, like tying up a ton of money in one player and possibly unbalancing team chemistry. So when the Sounders front office men tell us that they are in no hurry to add their one superstar player, and are waiting for the perfect player to come along, believe them and be thankful. It's the biggest decision this franchise has left to make for 2009.

(But Adrian, if you want to go ahead and ink Thierry Henry, just go ahead and do it.)


Kasey's a Sounder!

Today at Qwest Field, Kasey Keller became the second player signed by Seattle Sounders FC.

Keller passed up at least one offer in Europe to return home to the Sounders, and signed a two-year deal for an undisclosed amount of money. Rest assured, he won't take up the designated player slot. Unfortunately, Seattle had to use an allocation to sign him, meaning that they drop to last in the order of being able to sign US National team players returning to MLS. Or something like that. MLS rules are still somewhat murky to me. In any case, he'll probably make around 200 to 250k a year, so he won't break the bank.

At the press conference, GM Adrian Hanauer spoke highly of Keller's experience and leadership abilities. Could Kasey be the first Sounders captain? Either way, his addition is a big step forward, will generate plenty of good PR, and will provide keeper-of-the-future Chris Eylander (As soon as they sign him - get on that, Sounders!) with a great mentor. Welcome home, Kasey.


A huge three days ahead [Edit: KELLER OFFICIAL!]

To summarize briefly, here's what you should be excited about from now until Thursday in Seattle Soccer-land...

The Sounders take on Charleston on the road for a spot in the US Open Cup final today at 4:30. No USL team has made the final in the last 9 years, and one of these two sides will advance to play either New England or DC United. And should the Sounders win, they will host the final in the biggest soccer game in franchise history. Don't miss this one - it's on live right here.

Then on Thursday, head on down to Qwest Field for a major announcement - the signing of the second player in Sounders FC. With this event coming right before the European transfer window closes for the summer, the player is probably from a team overseas... oh, who are we kidding. It's Kasey Keller. In any event, the signing is at 2:00 and if you aren't stuck working like I am, you should check it out. [LATE EDIT: the PI confirms what we already knew, Kasey Keller will be signed Thursday!!!]

If that's not enough, early tomorrow morning the USA men take on Nigeria, needing but a tie to advance to the knockout stages of the Olympics. Set your DVR's.


Kicking it with Ciaran O'Brien

This coming Tuesday the Sounders will face the Charleston Battery on the road in a US Open Cup semifinal. A win, and the final will be played against either New England or DC United - in Seattle. Ciaran O'Brien, on loan to Seattle from the Colorado Rapids, will be a key player in this matchup. I talked with him today about MLS and his temporary return to the Sounders, his hometown team - as well as the team of his brother, Leighton.

Ness: I know you played in the US Open cup qualifiying rounds with Colorado… does that mean you’re cup-tied for Tuesday’s US Open Cup game?
Ciaran: No, because the game I played in with Colorado was a play-in game, so that doesn’t count.

N: Have you had a chance to pick up anything from (Colorado teammate and perennial MLS all-star) Christian Gomez?
C: I definitely have, his creativity and what he does on the ball is unlike anyone in MLS, so he’s a guy you can learn from. You try and watch and imitate what he does because he’s so good on the ball.

N: In your brief time as a pro, what’s the difference you've seen between MLS and USL, in talent?
C: There’s not a big difference at all. The biggest is obviously signing players like Beckham and Blanco. Apart from the big-name players there’s not really a drop. I think for Seattle there’ll be a good transition from USL into MLS, they won’t have a tough time adjusting because they’ve had the open cup matches.

N: Say you have the designated player slot for Seattle or Colorado, doesn’t matter. Who’s the one player in the world you’d want to play alongside?
C: Ooh. Tough question. Any player in the world?
N: Any player, regardless of contract.
C: I’m going to have to come back to that one.

N: I don’t know if you can answer this honestly but right now, at full health, who’s better, you or Leighton?
C: Leighton. He’s got more experience, he’s sharper on the ball so right now, he’s better.

N: I’m sure you’ve watched the Sounders a lot in the past… what’s it like to play for your hometown team?
C: It’s unbelievable. I grew up with Leighton and the Sounders from 2002, 2001 season is when I kinda started hanging around, and then 2002 they had that great year. From then on, I was at the games, warming up with the subs... It didn’t hit me in the Puerto Rico game, but it did at Portland that I was playing and not just sitting on the bench and watching. It was a great feeling, and it’s a great fit for me and the team. Against Portland the last game down there, it was great, playing against them in front of 12 thousand people. It fires you up as much as it fires them up.

N: Last one. It’s a softball question, or a spot-kick I guess, to be sport-appropriate. Best part about playing in Seattle?
C: Being in my hometown around all the guys, and just playing for the team, combination of those two, is great.

N: Any thoughts on the question we skipped over?
C: I’m going to go with Gerrard because I don’t want to say Ronaldo.

Big ups to Ciaran for chatting with me, and the best of luck to him and the Sounders in the Cup.


The case for Kasey

Let's put the puzzle pieces together.

First, Kasey Keller has repeatedly said he'd like to finish his career in Seattle. Second, Sounders FC front office man Chris Henderson recently said that "...some very exciting things are about to happen. In the next month we will sign one or more players for the 2009 team. I am not at liberty to tell you their names but watch for some press releases in the next few weeks." (from Soccer Seattle Style) Now, I certainly mean no offense to the current Sounders players, but I don't think the inking of a couple of them to MLS contracts would qualify as "very exciting." Besides, those who will make the MLS club probably won't be signed until the USL season ends.

So it's been a week since Henderson's comments, and no players have been signed. Meanwhile, Kasey Keller remains mysteriously out of contract.

It's beginning to seem like a given that the northwest native will end up a Sounder. I would guess that the deal hasn't been completed yet because Keller will be loaned to a European team, probably in Germany, until December or January. So as Henderson said, look for an announcement in the upcoming weeks.


The massive 2009 roster post

Most people would think that building an expansion team that could contend from day one would be an impossible task. But in the case of the next expansion team to enter MLS, this may not be the case. Here's my first attempt at creating a possible, realistic and strong roster for Seattle Sounders FC in 2009.

Current Sounders players: (F) Sebastien Le Toux is already signed, and (G) Chris Eylander will surely soon follow suit. There are a number of players who could follow them, but at this point I'd take (D) Zach Scott, (D) Taylor Graham, (M) Kenji Treschuk and (M) Josh Gardner.

Expansion draft: Some of the better teams in MLS are going to have good players available due to the deepness of their squads. (M) Khano Smith from New England and (M) Brian Carroll from Columbus should be available. (D, Chicago) Wilman Conde could probably be had, as long as he doesn't try and go to Europe in the offseason. (D, Toronto) Julius James is inexperienced and somewhat shaky, but his ridiculous athleticism means he has upside as well as an ability to finish on set-pieces. Local boy (D) Craig Waibel could be had from Houston. Injury-prone (F) Maykel Galindo, the former Sounder, might be available from Chivas USA. If not, we could just make a deal, trading them a bit of allocation money or something.

International signings: this is where the good stuff happens. First off, the rumors are swirling about this guy.I think there's an above 50% chance that the man pictured, legendary American and Washingtonian (G) Kasey Keller is a Sounder next year. He wants to be here and the team wants him. As is the case so often in MLS, something will be worked out, as it was recently to grant Brian McBride's wishes of playing for his hometown Chicago side. And the Sounders might be first in line to acquire him, anyways. The land of MLS rules and regulations is a murky, treacherous place, but with the guidance of Adrian Hanauer, we should be able to bring Keller safely to Seattle.

Some other players will be picked up internationally as well. I'll stick with my hunch that someone like (M) Zinha will be picked up to do great things for the Sounders attack. If not, there are a bunch of other players that could also fill this role (the previously mentioned Eliseo Quintanilla, Benny Feilhaber, Shinji Ono...) Another forward, like former Sounder Cam Weaver, will probably be added, and if not him it could be Preston Zimmerman. And the defense might need some extra bolstering as well. Hanauer could use his Costa Rican contacts to help add someone like the experienced (D) Carlos Castro.

College draft: The Sounders will get a bunch of young talent here, but probably only their #1 draft pick will make an major impact. And if it's (F) Marcus Tracy from Wake Forest, that could happen right away. He's good.

So after all that, we're left with 18 players for the senior roster (and a few more for the developmental, but I'm not going to go into that). Here's how those positions are filled in my proposed roster, as well as a possible starting 11.

Forwards: Nate Jaqua, Maykel Galindo, Cam Weaver, Marcus Tracy
Midfielders: Zinha, Brian Carroll, Sebastien Le Toux, Khano Smith, Josh Gardner, Kenji Treschuk
Defenders: Carlos Castro, Taylor Graham, Wilman Conde, Craig Waibel, Zach Scott, Julius James
Goalkeepers: Kasey Keller, Chris Eylander

Smith--------Carroll-------------Le Toux

Now... how good would this lineup be? Smith and Le Toux both have fabulous pace, and should fit quite well into the attacking style the Sounders say they want to play. The defense is savvy and experienced, and the combination of Keller and Eylander would be the best 1-2 keeper duo in the league, hands down. There's good depth at forward, and if Tracy produces this year like I believe he can, he'll be a force. The only weakness could be if Zinha (or whatever international CAM we end up with) is injured for a lengthy period of time. I guess I'd trade Colorado for Ciaran O'Brien and stash him in the reserve league/call him up as soon as someone got injured. Other than that, this side looks - to me - like one that could compete in MLS next year. But I'd love to hear what you think.

(And if you're curious, yes, this would fit under the MLS salary cap.)


Sounders add players for 2008, maybe 2009

Forward Kevin Forrest, in an interview with this blog in January:
"I love Seattle and playing here would be amazing. For now I have to keep my options open and take opportunities as they come, but if I end up playing here I couldn't be happier."

Well, Kevin Forrest has now achieved maximum happiness. The local UW product has just signed with the USL Seattle Sounders for the remainder of the 2008 season to aid the injury-depleted roster, and perhaps take a crack at making the MLS team in 2009. In addition, the Sounders have acquired Federal Way native Ciaran O'Brien on loan from the Colorado Rapids. O'Brien is an attacking midfielder who was picked 5th overall in the MLS draft this year.

Could either of them realistically end up in Seattle in 2009? If so, then the Sounders will have to do some dealing with Colorado (they also own Forrest's MLS rights for next year). The Rapids will be hard-pressed to deal O'Brien, as they probably won't want to give away their top draft pick after just 1 year and very little playing time for the main club. They'll value him higher than the price the Sounders would be willing to pay. Forrest is a different matter; they would probably trade his rights for next to nothing. If he impresses, he will likely end up in Sounders blue and green next year.


Freddy Adu is not good enough for the Seattle Sounders

According to this article out of the New York Times, prior to Freddy Adu's loan to AS Monaco, he was offered to three teams in MLS. One of them was Seattle Sounders FC. All three teams turned the player down.

Now, this isn't as ridiculous as it seems on the surface. The 19 year old Adu, one of the stars of the US National team heading to the Olympics, would have cost so much that he would have required a designated player slot. The Sounders, of course, will only have one such slot. So the front office must have designs on either a player more talented and famous than Adu, and probablyone who will be a quality player for the club for more than one year. Given that the franchise has made all the right moves up to this point, I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

This brings about the obvious question that I can't entirely answer - what player could the Sounders be targeting that would be better, on and off the pitch, than Freddy Adu?


Calabro to be the voice of the Sounders

Another stroke of genius and luck has come to Seattle's 2009 entry into MLS, as Kevin Calabro will be the first announcer for Seattle Sounders FC. King 5 and KONG (channel 6) will be the local broadcast team, and around 5 games will be on King 5, broadcast throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Calabro is obviously a legend, having called games for the late Seattle Supersonics for seemingly ever, greatly endearing him to his listeners. Don't be worried about the transition between sports for Calabro. He made light of it, saying "A lot of commonalities between the MLS and NBA - New York is dead last in the NBA, and dead last in the MLS." He seems genuinely excited for his new job, and he sounds like he knows more about soccer than I honestly would expected. (Although he certainly has a lot to learn.) I can almost guarantee that he will be a great spokesman and face of the franchise in 2009 and the years to follow.

(Calabro will be on King 5 at 5:45, so tune in then if you want to hear him talk some more.)


The attacking midfielder post

Almost indisputably, the most important position that the Sounders FC will have to fill is that of the offensive midfielder. Goalkeeper (Chris Eylander as soon as he's signed, possibly Kasey Keller) and striker (Sebastien Le Toux and Nate Jaqua) are more or less spoken for, and that's a good thing. But a quality player to lead the Sounders attack in 2009 may be a hard commodity to come by.

Make no mistake, a key player at the attacking midfield spot can make all the difference in MLS. Exhibit A: Recently acquired Amado Guevara, who has played a big role in Toronto FC's 1 year transformation from piddling expansion team to serious title contender. Exhibit B: Guillermo Barros Schelloto (whom my soccer loving, MLS neophite father refers to as "Skeletor"). He is the heart of the Columbus Crew, scoring a goal and assisting on 2 more today. MLS powers Houston and Chicago have international stars running their attack as well. On the other hand, expansion San Jose have a converted holding midfielder running their attack. Needless to say, they are bad.

So how will Seattle avoid that bad-ness? They don't have an MLS quality player to slot in on the USL Sounders. Current AM Leighton O'Brien has a good work rate, but he's old and just doesn't have the quality to cut it against better opponents for a full season. And such a player won't come from the expansion draft, either. The best player I can project being available would be Andy Williams of Real Salt Lake, who is really not your prototypical AM and is aging anyways. No, barring some bizarre trade, the leader of our attack will have to come from outside the country.

If money is no object, the ideal player to bring in to Seattle would be the Mexican international Antonio Naelson, better known as Zinha. Although he's on the wrong side of 30 and is just 5'5", he has shown no signs of weakening as a player. And what a player he is. Zinha possesses excellent touch, fantastic vision for a little guy and is more than capable of blasting in the occasional long-range goal. He has 40 appearances for the Mexican national team, even scoring against the USA a couple of years ago. Best of all, he's been strongly rumored to be interested in coming to America at some point in his career. As long as the Sounders ownership is willing to loosen the drawstrings, Zinha would be the perfect designated player and attacking midfielder.

If you're looking for a more 'attainable' name who could fill this position, Eliseo Quintanilla might be your guy. The 25 year old Salvadorian has been on a tear for his national team (22 games, 12 goals) as of late, which has brought about murmurs of his interest in returning to MLS. (He had a brief, injury-plagued spell at DC United a few years back.) Quintanilla is also small in stature but tall in talent, with his standout ability being his set-piece mastery. For whatever it's worth, and it may be nothing, he's been linked to both FC Dallas and San Jose. He could have a tie to Seattle, as well - he plays for the Costa Rican powerhouse club Alajuelense, from whom the Sounders recently signed defender Michael Rodriguez. Make no mistake, he's at least vaguely on the radar of the Sounders brass.


Which Sounders will make the cut?

Sebastien Le Toux is the lone USL Sounder who is going up to the MLS club next year. So far. A few more will be signed at the least, and maybe as many as 8 to 10 will make the jump. So since we're more than halfway through the USL season, and the Sounders are coming off of 2 games against MLS clubs, lets take a look at those who might earn 'promotion' next year.

Chris Eylander, GK: He's just way too good not to sign. Last year's league leader in saves and wins, Eylander has shown that 2007 was no fluke, as he turned in a sparkling performance against Kansas City in the Open Cup quarterfinals and has not given up a goal in the tournament. Also, he's 24. Backup keeper at worst, upper-tier starter at best. In fact, I'd bet good money that he's the next signing SSFC will make.

Good Chance
Kenji Treschuk, MF: Kenji has become an integral part of the Sounders midfield and almost certainly deserves a chance to earn a starting role in MLS. At 25, he's relatively young as well.

Zach Scott, DF: My friend made an interesting comment after Tuesday's game. "I was watching (Scott) all game... he didn't lose a single challenge and only got beaten once." A bit of hyperbole, perhaps, but Scott's impressive play against Chivas and KC as well as his solid USL performance probably has earned him a contract with the Sounders in MLS.

It's possible
Taylor Graham, DF
Kevin Sakuda, MF
Josh Gardner, MF
Roger Levesque, F
Michael Rodriguez, DF

Hard to get a read on the rest, as I don't really know what the target number for call-ups is. At this point, I'd say Graham and Gardner are in, Levesque sadly probably doesn't get called up due to his age, and Rodriguez and Sakuda are on the bubble. Rodriguez, in particular, is an interesting case because he hasn't spent much time with the Sounders in USL. His play over the next 2 months will determine his future in MLS with Seattle. Think he'll be motivated?


Kicking it with Jimmy Conrad

Since the US Open Cup Quarterfinal match between Seattle and the Kansas City Wizards is coming up on Tuesday, I checked in with Jimmy Conrad, Wizards captain and defender for the US National team. Below, take a look at his commentary on Seattle, the Cup, and how good looking Jimmy Conrad is.

Ness: The Wizards go to the Emerald City on Tuesday. Predictions? A tornado, perhaps?

Jimmy Conrad: I will only offer that I've always considered Seattle as the pre-eminent team in USL, their inclusion into MLS next year will be a welcome addition, and after their systematic dismantling of Chivas USA in the last round of the Open Cup, I would expect a very tough game from a very tough team. I would like to add that I should be a politician with that answer. Thank you.

Ness: You made your first appearance for the national team here at Qwest in 2005… on a scale of 1 to incredibly awesome, how awesome was that first game in a USA kit?

JC: It was incredibly awesome because it was an opportunity I had been patiently waiting for since I had been in the league for a few years. Not too many players get their first cap at age 28, like myself, but I wasn't going to let age be an issue or excuse. I just wanted to prove that I could play on the national team and that I deserved to be there. I'd like to think I've done that.

Ness: Two-part question – what do you think of Seattle entering MLS next year, and of the rapid expansion in MLS in general?

JC: Like I said above, I believe the inclusion of Seattle into MLS is a great coup. It's clear they have the fan base, creative and forward-thinking owners, and a talented group of players who have already proven that they can play at the MLS level. In terms of expansion in general, I think it would be a great thing to be 12 years old and playing soccer right now. The opportunities expansion provides to our young American players is very, very exciting.

Ness: You played with Sounders defender Taylor Graham for a couple of years. Any good things to say about him?

JC: (Laughs) Well, "good" is a relative term but I will say this: I know he's got the cajones to step up and take the last kick in penalties to win a championship only to miss and let his goalkeeper make the save, win the championship, and be the hero. I believe that proves he's got courage AND compassion. Oh yeah, he's got freckles, he doesn't tan well, and he's tall. Wait, what was your question again?

Ness: Regarding the US Open Cup… Chivas boss Preki recently said “clubs in our league do not take this tournament seriously.” Do you think that’s a common belief among MLS clubs?

JC: Preki is one of a kind but he's not alone in the thought that if MLS clubs can get into the later rounds of the Open Cup without using their regulars they will do it. Of course, if somehow the team finds itself in the Open Cup finals they would DEFINITELY start singing a different tune about the competition. Like, "It's clear we have the depth to compete at the highest level and attaining the Open Cup trophy, which is a goal for us every year, is something we are very, very focused on." It's part of the song and dance. You get knocked out early by a lower division team, you don't take it seriously and if you find yourself in the finals, it's been your goal all along. Coaching Manual Volume 1, Chapter 12, page 236.

Ness: If (Wizards teammate) Claudio Lopez is nicknamed The Louse, what do we call Jimmy Conrad? The Gnat? The Stag Beetle?

JC: The ant. Because the ant's success has been attributed to their social skills, their ability to adapt to changing environments, their ability to solve complex problems, and their undeniable charm and rugged good looks. Okay, I'll be honest, I threw that last part in there but I'm only speaking the truth!

Big ups to Jimmy for chatting with me. I wish him the best of luck in the rest of the MLS season, but I hope the Sounders can beat his side on Tuesday!


Jaqua to Sounders FC?

Here's some relatively breaking news - according to an article out of Houston, Nate Jaqua has been offered a contract by the Houston Dynamo that would put him in Seattle when the Sounders FC begin play in 2009. 

The article quotes Dynamo team president Oliver Luck. Here's the most relevant bit: "The offer would have Jaqua in Dynamo uniform as early as mid July. The forward would then be traded to Seattle FC for the 2009 season under an agreement with the expansion franchise, Luck said."

The whole article can be viewed here. More updates as I get them...


Game preview: Chivas USA at Seattle Sounders

Tonight the USL Sounders get what may be their only chance at playing MLS competition this season, as they go up against Chivas USA in the US Open Cup. The Sounders seem like they're on a mission to improbably win the whole thing after their 6-0 demolishing of Hollywood United last week, so this game should be close. In addition, Sounders players such as Josh Gardener, Zach Scott and Kenji Treschuk will be trying to show that they can match up against a good MLS team, and prove that they're worthy of being brought up to the Sounders FC next year. 

Chivas USA is a different story. They are entering a span of at least 5 competitive games in 16 days, so they may not be compelled to play all of their top players. In last year's match between these two sides, won 3-1 by the Sounders, Chivas left star keeper Brad Guzan on the bench, and they may do the same tonight. The Los Angeles team doesn't have a great history of success in the Cup either - the year before the aforementioned loss to the Sounders, Chivas was famously and embarrassingly beaten by an amateur team. Chivas are still the better team, but things could be aligning favorably for the Sounders tonight. 

Keep an eye on.... Sebastien Le Toux, F. He ripped Hollywood United for 4 goals last week, but this game should provide a greater challenge for the Frenchman, already signed to the Sounders FC. See if he can still be productive against an MLS defense.

From the other side... Justin Braun, F. The guy I'd really love the Sounders FC to pick up from Chivas is midfielder Raphael Wicky. Since he's out injured, keep an eye on this young forward. Braun hasn't been hugely productive this year, but is just 21 and has potential.

7:00, Starfire Sports Complex, Tukwila
http:/usl.playonsports.tv/  (watch for free!)


The other draft

The NBA draft was yesterday, and many of the top college basketball players in the country have been snapped up by new teams. In that spirit, let's take a quick look at some of the top players available in the 2009 MLS college draft, in which the Sounders FC have the first pick: 

In the coming week I'll hopefully learn a lot more about these players, and see if anyone else is worthy of being added to this list. At this point, Tracy is my favorite of the bunch. As the year goes on and the draft (in January) draws closer, I'll bring some interviews of these college superstars and prospective Sounders.


Watch the Sounders tonight FOR FREE

Holy good deals, Batman! If you haven't had a chance to see the USL Seattle Sounders this year, the game is available for your viewing pleasure at:

The game starts at 8:00 Pacific and features the hometown and home-team Sounders taking on amateur side Hollywood United. The Sounders will face Chivas USA next week in Tukwila, but only if they win tonight. Check it out.


The futility of expansion teams: A brief history

2008 - San Jose, on pace for 25 points in 30 games. 
Last place in MLS.
2007 - Toronto FC, 25 points in 30 games.
Last place in MLS.
2005 - Chivas USA, 18 points in 32 games. 
Last place in MLS.
2005 - Real Salt Lake, 20 points in 32 games. 
2nd to last place in MLS.

Assuming San Jose doesn't improve a huge amount in a short time period, each of the last 4 expansion teams to enter MLS will have gone on to have hilariously pathetic seasons. The only one not to be last place in the league was Real Salt Lake, only because the other expansion team was even worse. The good folks running Seattle Sounders FC have said that they want to be competitive immediately, but based on recent history, this seems quite unlikely to happen. Just having a team in MLS should be enough for the 2009 season, Sounders fans. Lets keep our expectations in check.


Signs of Sounders FC sponsor

It's still a year until Seattle Sounders FC will make its impact on MLS, but the main sponsor - Xbox 360 - is already doing so. Signboard advertisements with the Xbox 360 logo have been at the majority of, if not all, recent MLS games. I saw them on tonight's Primetime Thursday game on ESPN, as well as last Saturday's Kansas City - Columbus clash. 


Nate Jaqua - How to get him?

Meet Nate Jaqua.He's the ideal player for Seattle Sounders FC. He is a relatively young striker and is talented enough to be an occasional US National team player. He recently had a good run playing in Europe (OK, Austria, but it's still Europe) yet has MLS experience - he won the cup last year with Houston. And now he's out of contract, hanging out in Oregon - yes, he's a native Pacific Northwesterner. The icing on the cake is the fact that he has expressed interest in playing in MLS, and reportedly wants to come to the Sounders FC. Brilliant!

One tiny problem though - his rights are still owned by Houston. Which means if he returns to MLS, they have first dibs. Now, the astute reader might think, "couldn't we just sign him to the Sounders in USL and bring him up to MLS next year?" While the rules about the 'promotion' of the Sounders are pretty hazy, since this is an unprecedented situation in American soccer... I don't think they could work this. A month or so ago, the Sounders passed on signing a defender who had been let go by New York Red Bulls, mainly because NYRB would still have owned his rights in MLS. This would probably be the same case regarding Jaqua. And yes, MLS rules are somewhat ridiculous and should be clarified. Like that'll ever happen.

There could be ways around this, of course. The Sounders FC - NOT the Sounders in USL - could trade for his rights and sign him, possibly loaning him back to Houston for the remainder of this season as part of the deal. The Sounders FC are free to sign players already if they want, as they already have locked up USL Sounder Sebastien Le Toux. What could they trade, since they only have one signed player? Possibly a draft pick, a slot for an international player or an allocation allowing for some amount of salary to go over the salary cap.

Complicated enough? In a nutshell, we could get Jaqua, and I'd give pretty good odds that the signing happens eventually. There's just a ton of formalities to go through first.
(Photo courtesy American Soccer News)


A brief look at MLS

With nothing major of note on the horizon for Seattle MLS, let's take a quick look at the league they will be entering. (I'm not going to revisit my preseason predictions, because they would probably look wildly different than the actual state of the league.) There are a couple of things that stand out.

First, this wild season has thus far proven that any team can beat any other team on any given day. This was most clearly shown this past weekend, when San Jose beat Columbus and DC United edged Chicago - both victories coming on the road. Yes, the two worst teams in MLS beat two of the best, away from home. 

The second, and most interesting thing for Sounders FC fans, is the power imbalance between the two conferences. The current three best teams (New England, along with the aforementioned Columbus and Chicago) are all in the East. If the 4th place team in the East (Toronto FC) were in the West, they would be tied for first. In addition, only one Eastern Conference team has more than 4 losses, and there are currently 5 such teams in the West. Any way you spin it, the East is clearly the superior conference. If this continues to hold true into next year, the Sounders, who will obviously be joining the Western Conference, will have a bit of an advantage to their hopes of making the playoffs.


Dream big, Sounders fans

So maybe Thierry Henry won't be pulled in by Seattle Sounders FC. Given that that was an absolute best-case scenario, Seattle fans probably won't be too let down. But there is serious reason to hope for a similar caliber of player in both skill and fame. 

There's the annual international tour that has been announced. Any team intending to send their team on tour to other countries for exhibitions - months before playing a single game - clearly has some big plans in store. These plans were again alluded to by owner Joe Roth after the Brazil game, when he talked about the possible signing of a designated player: "I think it's the next really big decision," Roth said. "It's a decision that can help make the team. Conversely, there are very few decisions that could really kill us and set us back, and I think getting the wrong designated player, getting somebody who's past his prime, getting somebody who is not a good member of the community, really has to take a lot of considered thought."

Now, the way he talks about it makes it seem pretty clear that the team intends to bring in a designated player for 2009. (Which fits with everything I've heard so far.) And they want someone who still is a quality player, as well as someone 'big' enough to merit being the centerpiece of an international tour. Teams with stars go on world tours. Teams like San Jose or Real Salt Lake do not. So the door is open for virtually any player in the world to be brought in to Seattle. Remember Mr. Roth's comments, way back in November when the team was announced, about wanting to bring in Ronaldinho? Might not be as unlikely as you think...


Oh, Canada...

...you came so close to a remarkable result, but it was just not to be.

Like every other soccer fan in Seattle with half a brain and 40 dollars, I was at Qwest Field Saturday night to watch the respective national teams of Canada and Brazil clash. The result was an incredibly entertaining game that ended in a 3-2 victory for the samba-loving South American side. One interesting thing was seeing aging star keeper Kasey Keller alongside Drew Carey at the match. Draw your own conclusions from that if you so choose. Aside from that, the action was fantastic, with Brazil trading attacks with a surprisingly competent Canada throughout the match. The atmosphere was even better, with almost 50,000 filling the stands and constant noise provided by the Brazilian drummers. Simply put, if you weren't there, you should've been.

Row W of the 300 level in Qwest doesn't provide one with the best of game action views, but here's a few shots from the match anyways.


Sounders FC sponsored by XBOX 360!

So I was sitting in section 121 at Qwest Field, listening to Joe Roth talk about how he (quite impressively) had woken up at 5 AM in Los Angeles this morning and had gotten to Seattle for the jersey unveiling at 11:30. I reached into my bag to pull out my camera and turned it on. The words "change batteries" showed up on the screen. I stared at it in sadness for about 15 seconds and put it away. So, no pictures from the event. Instead, here's an image of our new jersey!
Can't complain. It's unique (no other team in MLS has a green jersey) and doesn't look too busy or too boring. With over 16,000 season deposits being made, you can bet that these jerseys will be flying off of the shelves just as soon as they're on them in the first place. Which could be as soon as this Saturday. Some sort of merchandise will be available at the Qwest Field team shop by this Saturday, but it's unlikely (not impossible) that this jersey is among stuff available to purchase. We'll find out...