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.)