5 games to look forward to

The MLS schedule for 2009 was released today, giving us the dates and times of every single Sounders game in the inaugural season. There are 30 to pick from, but here’s my take on the five most exciting SSFC matches to look forward to. These dates should be circled on your calendar, preferably in suitable shades of blue or green.

5. Los Angeles at Seattle, May 10. Assuming that David Beckham does suit up for the Galaxy in the coming season, this match will bring a wave of media attention. Assuming that the Sounders’ Freddy Ljungberg has functional legs this season, it will be a matchup between two legitimate European stars, the first of its kind in MLS. Oh, and thanks to the mind of Bruce Arena, the Galaxy might actually be good this season. Hold on to your tickets for this one.

4. Seattle at Columbus, October 3. Not only will this be possibly the hardest match of the season, an away game at the defending champions, but it marks the return to Columbus for former Crew coach/current Sounders coach Sigi Schmid. There was some bad blood over how that transaction was handled, making this match all the more intriguing. The rowdy Crew fans will surely be in full voice.

3. Seattle at San Jose, June 13. In truth, all three Quakes – Sounders clashes will be great games. The teams are relatively geographically close, and have tons of history from the NASL in the 70’s and 80’s. In fact, there has been a trophy created for the winner of this series, aptly named the Heritage Cup. This game will likely determine the winner. Expect to see a big group of Sounders supporters traveling south, creating a fantastic atmosphere.

2. Dallas at Seattle, October 24. The last game of the season is a home one for Seattle, and could have massive playoff implications for one or both of these teams. Plus FC Dallas is a team Seattle has some beef with – they knocked out the USL Sounders in the semis of the ’06 US Open Cup. Sounders supporters are still mad that the match contained less-than-sportsmanlike conduct from several FCD players. I’m looking at you, keeper Dario Sala. And you look like a vampire.

1. New York at Seattle, March 19. Sorry, it’s just too easy. Taking on an MLS Cup finalist on national TV in the first game in franchise history? Very, very hard to top that.

(Except, of course, in the unlikely event of playoffs in ’09. But never say never!)


A team of the world

There could be a lot of different nationalities represented on the Sounders FC this coming season. Behold:

Fredy Montero (Columbia)
Osvaldo Alonso (Cuba)
Khano Smith (Bermuda)
Jarrod Smith (New Zealand)
Sebastien Le Toux (France)
Sanna Nyassi (The Gambia)
Steve Zakuani (Congo and U.K)
Freddie Ljungberg (Sweden)

If you want to go even further, Hugo Alcarez-Cuellar, a USL Sounders midfielder, is from Mexico, and recent signee Taylor Graham has played for the Puerto Rican national team (despite his being completely American).

That's a total of four different languages, five different continents and a bunch of completely different styels of soccer. The official website says 'the Seattle Sounders FC will be comprised from the top talent around the world'. While they might be stretching the term 'top talent' a little bit, they've certainly covered almost all parts of the globe.


Chelsea coming, Montero’s here, and more

On the first day in Sounders FC history (well, the first practice, that is) I had to write something, but so much has happened over the last 24 hours you will get it in bullet-point format.

- England superclub Chelsea FC are coming to Seattle to play in a friendly! No, really. The tentative date is July 18, and apparently all Sounders season ticket holders already have tickets, with this being one of the 3 bonus games.

- You’ll think I’m kidding, but I’ve heard quite a few whispers about another superclub setting up a Seattle showdown. Try Barcelona.

- USL defender Taylor Graham has signed with the Sounders FC. He’s kicked around MLS a little bit before, and might be able to find a spot as a backup central defender.

- Freddy Montero was in Seattle for practice! The star Columbian forward hasn’t worked out a deal with Seattle yet, and all sorts of rumors are flying around about whether he is going to play in Spain or stay stateside. The international transfer window closes at the end of the month, so we’ll know about his future in 10 days or so.

- In addition to Montero, there is at least one more international signing in the works. Could it be one of the Aussies I’ve noted in the past, Diego Walsh or Tarek Elrich? Their season ends down under on Sunday…

- Last but not least, there is an MLS team in Seattle. The wait is officially over.


Seattle's 2009 draft class

Akron’s 20 year old wunderkind Steve Zakuani was the first overall pick and first college player selected in Sounders history. The striker drew tremendous praise from many at the draft, including (not surprisingly) Adrian Hanauer. The Sounders general manager said of his new forward, “He’s got all the tools, a great pedigree, grew up in the Arsenal youth system, obviously had a very good college career and we think has the potential to be very explosive and a very exciting player.” Zakuani also is a Generation Adidas player, and his salary will not count against the meager MLS cap. Since he is rumored to be making upwards of 150k a year, a lot for any MLS player, this is hugely important for Seattle, as it allows them to use that money on other players.

The other three players are all seniors. Evan Brown was chosen in the second round. He is a right back out of soccer powerhouse Wake Forest who is solid defensively, but still excels at getting forward and joining in the attack. He has drawn comparisons to Frankie Hejduk, the prototypical MLS defender who can play a role on offense as well.

Jared Karkas, the third round selection, is a left back out of little Azusa Pacific University. A left footed player, he is otherwise similar in skill and style to Brown, although his play came against much easier opposition. With only 5 total defenders on the Sounders roster, both Karkas and Brown figure to be in competition for one of the 20 roster spots.

The fourth round selection was Harvard’s Michael Fucito. He was talked about little leading up to the draft. Another left footed player, Fucito can line up either in the midfield or at forward. Although his Harvard pedigree is probably indicative of his smarts, he likely will end up as one of the Sounders’ four Developmental Roster players.


MLS SuperDuperDraft 2k9 predictions!

We're inside 24 hours to go, with the 2009 SuperDuperDraft beginning at 11 am PT and the Sounders holding the top overall pick. There has been massive speculation about the team's choice, whether to use it or trade it, whether to go for offense or defense. After consulting all the soccer world's top sources for college knowledge, I've come to some fearless conclusions about what exactly will take place tomorrow.

- The Colorado Rapids will, at some point, do something hilariously stupid and/or embarrassing.
- The talking heads on the ESPN broadcast will mispronounce a player's name.
- David Beckham will be discussed.
- Unless Mo Johnston is gagged, bound and shoved in a closet somewhere, Toronto FC will make at least one trade.
- The Sounders will pick a little-known player in the 3rd or 4th round and, after looking him up on Wikipedia/Youtube, you will convince yourself that this player has potential.
- The words 'tremendous upside' will be spoken.
- David Beckham will be discussed some more.
- You will wish Eric Wynalda was on the broadcast.
- You will be extremely thankful Marcelo Balboa is not on the broadcast.
- You will spend at least an hour refreshing your computer, checking on the next Sounders pick, during the second and third rounds.
- The Sounders will select.... Omar Gonzalez!
- Or Steve Zakuani.
- Or Sam Cronin.
- Or trade the pick.
- You will wish that March 19 was tomorrow.


MLS Seattle is on ESPN!

In the shameless self promotion department, I recently conducted an interview with Marcus Tracy, whom you might remember from articles such as this. The top college player in the country, Wake Forest's star senior striker reportedly has signed a contract with Danish champions Aalborg. (He asked me not to go into detail about his future plans, aside from saying that he 'is most likely exploring options in Europe.) Here's a bit from the interview:

ESPNsoccernet [me!]: What sort of advice did you hear about entering the MLS draft versus jumping to play in Europe? What were the main factors that went into deciding where you want to play?

MT: Jumping to Europe [and any professional level in general] is certainly a challenge, and the most important thing is that you don't overshoot and go for the mega-contract right off the bat. You need to go somewhere where you can evolve in soccer and in life, because playing abroad is much different than college and/or MLS. It is also important that you have a realistic chance of playing regularly at your new club because game experience cannot be substituted. I've also been told that the life of a professional is much different than anything I've ever experienced thus far. The day-to-day competition and rigors of it are demanding and stressful and it takes a strong mind to grind through it all.

Go here to read the rest. It's good stuff, honest - Tracy's a very gracious and insightful guy. I wish him all the best for his future, even if it won't be in Seattle.


3 steps to making the Sounders a serious contender in MLS

I've been down on the playoff chances of the Sounders. I've said that the roster needs significant change, and I stand by that. But if said change happens, Seattle could have a postseason contender after all.
(Step zero, of course, is signing defender Jeff Parke and keeping him from trotting off to Europe. If that doesn't happen, no playoffs. Period. This should be priority numero uno for the organization right now.)

What do we have to work with? Well, with Schmid, Hanauer and Henderson, some of the best minds in the American soccer business, for starters. More importantly, there's quite a bit of cash left. Taking the 15 players we have signed, I slightly increased most of their salaries and decreased a few (here's looking at you, Vagenas). I doubled Parke's contract and assumed he signs here, and gave Keller 300k. All told, I estimate we've used about 1.6 million of a 2.3 mil cap. And with a bunch of allocation money remaining, probably in the neighborhood of 400k, the Sounders are in a good position to spend.

The latest sexy hot draft rumor has us taking Akron's Steve Zakuakuani, a striker. He's a guy in the Patrick Nyarko mold, and as such wouldn't be more than a backup next season. He also wouldn't count against the cap. We should add one more former USL Sounder to the team - and bench - leaving 3 roster spots left to make significant upgrades.

1. Central defense. Parke is good, Wahl is ok. But we want better than ok, right?

Solution - sign Roy Miller. This one appears to be nearly done. Miller is a big 24 year old Costa Rican who has a comparable game to Cory Gibbs. A defensive pairing of Parke and Miller would be amazing. Probably the best in the Western Conference.

Cost - since he's likely coming on a loan, I'd guess a relatively reasonable 200k.

2. Striker. Nate Jaqua is a very good target guy, but he can't create and do it all on his own. We don't have the personel to play a Columbus-style 4-5-1 very well, so another man up top is necessary.

Solution - sign Freddy Montero. Haven't we been over this already? The young Columbian has long been rumored to have had his rights purchased by the Sounders.

Cost - whatever it is, there would be allocations used. I'll go with about 200k, with maybe 125k in allocation money as well.

3. Outside back. Unless we're planning on playing someone out of his best position, we only have one at the moment - James Riley. And do you really want to count on Nate Sturgis's body not completely imploding? There's no easy answer for this one, but I've got a creative one...

Solution - sign Tarek Elrich! Who? He's a 21 year old Aussie currently playing for his home country's Newcastle Jets. A member of his U-23 team, he's the best player on a team going nowhere. He's got speed in bunches, vision, and loves to get forward and spur the attack. Exactly the type of outside back Sigi loves. When the Australian season ends in February, he will probably be looking for better opportunities.

Cost - not much. The A-League is even cheaper than MLS, and Elrich could probably be had for around 125k.

---Jaqua -- Montero --
-------Ljungberg -----
KSmith Evans Le Toux
Riley Miller Parke Elrich

This lineup, combined with the depth the Sounders would have, would be a top-4 club in MLS. No question. The resources are there to make Seattle a contender. The only question is whether the Sounders are willing to give it a try.


New year, new teams

While the Sounders are joining MLS in 2009, they will leave Seattle without an entry in the minor-leagues of USL. Or so we thought. Recently the USL website has listed a mysterious 'Seattle' club under the new PDL clubs for 2009. (PDL is about the third division of USL, and the fourth tier of American soccer.)

I have very good reason to believe that we will be seeing this team announced soon, likely within the next week. I am also fairly certain that this team will be affiliated with the Sounders FC in some way, probably as their U-23 team. I do not know that last part for a fact, but it seems likely. A U-23 team would be a great step forward in the player development department. Such a team would probably play an 8 to 10 game season at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila.

Whether this mystery team is essentially a Sounders youth squad or not, it will mean more soccer in Seattle, and that can only be good. It's a nice way to start off what should be a fabulous 2009.