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!)