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.