The '09 Sounders vs. the '08 Earthquakes - an analysis

A common belief among Sounders fans is that our team is better prepared for MLS than previous expansion teams. A common belief among fans of various other MLS teams is that the Sounders will very much struggle this year, just like previous expansion teams. I fall into the former camp, and I’m going to defend it. I’ll look at how Seattle’s opening day lineup matches up against San Jose’s in 2008, compare the starters at each position, and quantify which team is stronger.

First, the lineups. The projected opening day lineup for Seattle and San Jose’s opening day lineup last year. (NOTE – for any eagle-eyed Quakes fans, yes, Shea Salinas did start the first game at forward, but he really wasn’t a striker so I put Glinton, who mostly started during the beginning of the year.)

San Jose: Joe Cannon, Jason Hernandez, Ryan Cochrane, Nick Garcia, James Riley, Ronnie O'Brien, Ramiro Corrales, Ned Grabavoy, Ivan Guerrero, Kei Kamara, Shea SalinasSeattle (projected): Kasey Keller, Nate Sturgis, Jhon Hurtado, Tyrone Marshall, James Riley, Sebastien Le Toux, Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Sanna Nyassi, Nate Jaqua, Fredy Montero

Keeper – Joe Cannon vs. Kasey Keller. To be honest this is a really tough one. Cannon was (and still is) one of the best keepers in MLS. Keller is the best American goalkeeper ever. But age and the fact that Keller hasn’t played competitively since last May probably make this a toss-up, though I'm sure Sounders fans will disagree. EVEN

Left back – Jason Hernandez vs. Nate Sturgis. Hernandez is one of the best young up and coming defenders you’ve never heard of, and was a real bright spot for the Quakes. Sturgis was a similar rising prospect a couple years ago, but until he proves that he’s more durable than a tower of Jenga blocks, he’s not at the same level. SAN JOSE

Center back – Tyrone Marshall vs. Nick Garcia. Both veterans on the downsides of their careers. Garcia wins because of being younger, more in his prime, and having a prime-r prime anyways. SAN JOSE

Center back – Ryan Cochrane vs. Jhon Hurtado. As Hurtado has yet to suit up for the Sounders, this is a bit tricky, but Cochrane just was never anything special. SEATTLE

Right back – James Riley vs. James Riley. Riley was a solid MLS player who won’t make any all-star teams, but is a reliable option in defense and a threat going forward. Of course, so is Riley. EVEN

Left wing – Ivan Guererro vs. Sebastien Le Toux. The two are actually very different styles of player – Guererro more defensive, Le Toux more offensive. I’m going to give this to Seba, but it’s close. SEATTLE

Center mid – Osvaldo Alonso vs. Ned Grabavoy. Alonso is young and unproven at the MLS level. But Ned Grabavoy has just never been very good. SEATTLE

Center mid – Brad Evans vs. Ramiro Corrales. Both are above average, yet somewhat unheralded players in the center of the park. This is basically a draw as well. EVEN

Right wing – Ronnie O’Brien vs. Sanna Nyassi. Sorry, Sounders fans. Nyassi may be cheaper and have a brighter future, but last year O’Brien was a huge part of San Jose’s attack and one of the only reasons they’d ever score goals at all. SAN JOSE

Forward - Gavin Glinton vs. Nate Jaqua. Once upon a time Glinton was a decent player. That time was not last year. This is no contest. SEATTLE

Forward - Kei Kamara vs. Fredy Montero. Hahahahahahaha SEATTLE

Totals: San Jose 3, Even 3, Seattle 5


This could be even more lopsided, really. If the Sounders come out of Argentina with a new left back, they could win that category, and when Freddy Ljungberg returns to play center-mid, that’ll gain another category. And when Pete Vagenas comes back from his injury... well, actually, that'll probably make us worse. Anyways, we’re quite a few steps ahead of where San Jose was last year. As I outlined a couple posts below, San Jose garnered just 10 points in their first 10 games. With a much better overall squad, Seattle should expect more success during the start of their inaugural season.


Sounders to sign Colombian defender - the final piece of the puzzle?

Back in January I wrote that three more major moves would be needed to make the Sounders a complete team. One at forward, two in defense. The forward slot was taken care of with Fredy Montero, which is seeming like more of a coup every day. One defensive hole was filled with Tyrone Marshall, who, while merely adequate in MLS, is still better than anything we had previously.

And now the Sounders have filled that second hole. According to Enlajugada, the Colombian soccer website that originally broke the Fredy Montero signing (months before announced in the states), John Kennedy Hurtado has signed with the club.

From the article: "El joven defensor central del registro del Deportivo Cali, John Kennedy Hurtado, continuar√° su ascendente carrera profesional en la 'Major League Soccer' de los Estados Unidos."
(My rough translation: "The young central defender registered to Deportivo Cali, John Kennedy Hurtado, will continue his ascending professional career in MLS in the United States." Sounds pretty clear that we've signed him, I think.)

Hurtado isn't the rising superstar that Montero is, but he was on trial with Milan and had plans to sign with Swiss club Grasshoppers before visa problems caused that to fall through. A natural center back, Hurtado comes from Montero's former club, Deportivo Cali. He is 5'11" but reportedly has fantastic speed. Could he be pushed out to outside defense, I wonder...?

Either way, this signing will bolster greatly what had been a questionable defense. It probably will be the last major international move the Sounders make before the season opens. Although he'll have to prove himself, Hurtado might just be the final piece Seattle has been missing to have a club that maybe - just maybe - could dream of contention in 2009.

Lowering Expectations

First 10 games of MLS expansion seasons, 2005-2008

San Jose 2008 - LLWLTLLWLW – 10 points from 10 games
Toronto FC 2007 – LLLLWWLTWL – 10 points
Chivas USA 2005 - LTLLLWLLLL – 4 points
Real Salt Lake 2005 - TLWLTLWWLL – 11 points

- None of these expansion teams had over a .500 record in the first 10 games (first 1/3) of the season.
- None of these teams won a single game until their third match.
- Over the first 5 games these teams accumulated 4, 3, 1 and 4 points respectively.

I think the numbers paint a pretty clear and indisputable picture. Teams entering MLS do not fare well at first. Each team was last in the league at the 1/3 point, except Real Salt Lake who had another expansion team in the league in Chivas USA. It's not a huge leap to assume that expansion clubs need time to adjust to MLS, to begin working as a team. Seattle will have the same problem. So if Seattle has just 10 points (which should be about what we expect, based on the above data) at the beginning of June, and looks hopelessly out of contention, it's not due to poor roster management or poor coaching. It's just the growing pains every expansion team has to overcome.


Meet the longshots

Confused by all these names that keep popping up in the Sounders practice reports? I'm here to help. Seattle has brought in many young players with hopes of impressing a coach and maybe, just maybe, playing their way onto the team. Almost all of these guys are names you've never heard of, so here's a brief summary of those players.

Jeff Clark – A forward from tiny Concordia College, he played in the NAIA against Sounder draft pick and blog friend Jared Karkas. For whatever it’s worth, he’s Concordia’s all time leader in points, goals and assists. Has shown reasonably well in camp, might have a shot at a developmental slot.

Ryan Pore – A 25 year old striker. Was last seen on the Kansas City Wizards, where he racked up a staggering 3 goals in 58 appearances. An actual quote from a KC fan – “How in the hell does this washout make this much money?” Wizards fans were happy to see him waived this offseason. Probably camp filler.

Lamar Neagle – A reasonably skilled forward from UNLV. Don’t see much of a chance for him to make the Sounders… right away. However, he is local, a Federal Way native. It’s quite possible that he could be signed by Seattle and loaned to the new pro team in Kitsap, or just play there anyways. Keep an eye on him.

Quavas Kirk – Left winger formerly from DC United. He entered the league at just 16, and while gifted with raw talent, saw his development stall. He is just 20, and could be one of those guys who just needs the right coach to click – or maybe not. Still, he has the highest upside out of anyone in this group. With Khano Smith probably being traded to New York, Kirk becomes intriguing. His age means he could potentially be on the developmental roster.

Ryan Caugherty – A Korean-American midfielder who has played in Denmark, Hungary, Romania and Sweden. Mostly in the second or third divisions. Also has played in USL-2 on a couple different stints. He has good size, but I’m thinking he’s a journeyman for a reason.

Emerald George – Midfielder from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Hands down the best name of the bunch. Has actually started for his national team on multiple occasions, but to be fair, they have a population of about 120k people. I like what I’ve heard of him, but his international status means he probably doesn’t have a prayer. Hope he does well though.

Fernando Screpis – Journeyman 29 year old Argentine central midfielder. I think he plays more of a d-mid. Has been all around Europe, most recently being cut by Scottish club Hearts. Can’t see how he makes the squad.

Mamadou Danso – A big (6’2”, 190) central defender, also from an NAIA school – Southern Polytechnic. He played forward for his school and was ranked highly in the nation in all offensive categories. However, defense is his more natural position. Was a sophomore last year. His nickname is ‘Futty’ for some reason. He could have some potential, maybe a chance at a developmental slot.

Kyle Schmid – A young defender. He’s Sigi Schmid’s son. I think that goes a ways towards explaining why he’s in camp.


Kicking it with Jared Karkas

Although in my mind the defense is the biggest question for the Sounders FC, Jared Karkas is set to change that. An attacking left back from Azusa Pacific University, Karkas was the Sounders' 3rd round draft selection, 31st overall. I was able to catch him on a relatively light training day and ask him a few questions, to hopefully help readers and Sounder fans get to know one of their talented new young team members.

(Karkas is in white in the photo. Credit to apu.edu.)

Ness: Was getting drafted in the 3rd round a surprise? Did you expect to be drafted at all?
Jared Karkas: Being drafted was a bit of a suprise. I was told I would just go to Seattle's training camp after the draft. I did not expect to be drafted at all. It's hard for NAIA players to get drafted. I feel very honored and blessed.

Ness: What's the most noticable difference between NAIA soccer and MLS training camp thus far?
JK: I would definitely say the speed of the game. In NAIA you seem to have more time to decide what you want to do but in MLS you have to be one step ahead or you won't last long. There are many talented players out there that seem to struggle when it comes to the pace of the higher levels of soccer.

Ness: The Sounders are a little light on defense... think you have a chance to contribute to the team this year?

JK: To be honest I don't think the Sounders are light on defense at all. We have alot of talented defenders in camp right now so its just a matter of time to see who the coaching staff keeps. I know if the Sounders sign me I will contribute to the team whether its playing or not playing. I am going to work as hard as I possibly can to help prepare the team.

Ness: For those that don't know you, what would you say are your specialties, the parts of your game that stand out?
JK: I'd have to say my crosses. I had many many assists in the NAIA from serving crosses in. I would also say my pace going forward with the ball. If I get into a good enough position up the field with the ball alot of the times I created trouble and found opportunities for my team. Ifjust always have been that fortunate.

Ness: Ever been to Seattle? Can you imagine playing in front of 25,000 fans?
JK: I haven't been to Seattle since I was about 12. I think it's beautiful up there. I dont think they could have chosen a better expansion area then Seattle. When I was a kid I used to imagine playing infront of thousands of fans, but who knows... It could be a little overwhelming at first.

Ness: Finally the all-important question... are you a fan of the bright green on all the gear?

JK: (Laughs) I actually am a fan of the bright green. It's different and I like it. Teams in the league will fear the bright green eventually.

Big ups to Jared for chatting with me. I certainly hope he can contribute to the Sounders in 2009.


Where's the defense?

In 2008 the Sounders were in the USL and were unquestionably a very average team. Their record of 10 wins, 10 losses and 10 ties is pretty damning proof. Their strength was on offense, specifically with Sebastian Le Toux. However, as a team they were in the bottom half of almost every category defensively. And their defensive performance would have been much worse had it not been for Chris Eylander, who deservedly earned his spot on the Sounders FC. The local keeper turned in a season that was nothing short of heroic - 119 saves, the runaway league leader. But to still allow so many goals (36 in 30 games) means that the back line had some serious issues in USL.

Which makes it all the more strange that they are seemingly being counted on to play a major part on the Sounders FC in the much more difficult MLS.

That might be overstating things, but the defense is a huge question right now, and the USL Sounders should not be the answer. Taylor Graham, Danny Jackson and Zack Scott are the three former Sounders who are all getting consideration, with Graham having actually signed a contract. Graham was the most solid of the bunch in USL, but he's had two equally unsuccessful stints in MLS. (In fact, his name is a joke among fans of one of his former teams.) Jackson has played a grand total of 1 game in MLS and is on the downside of his career. And while I like Scott, he was noticably inconsistant even in USL. To think he can adequately make the jump up a league is a bit of an enormous stretch.

Although there are of course other defenders in camp, they only improve the picture marginally. James Riley is the only sure-fire starter of the bunch. Tyson Wahl has started in MLS at Kansas City, but only for 1 year and that was only after regular starter Nick Garcia left. Aside from that, there's Patrick Ianni, a 3rd to 4th string player with the Dynamo, and Nate Sturgis, who's been so hurt that he's missed 70% of the last two seasons. And then there are the college draft picks, but if you're counting on a second and/or third round draft pick to contribute, you're in trouble.


That's probably our back four as of right now. That's not a good defense. That's downright Galaxyesque. I might as well write


At least one more major signing is necessary for this team to be anything close to decent. A center back would be fantastic, or even an outside back to let Wahl play in the middle, his more natural position. And it lets somebody, Sturgis probably, come off of the bench and give us more quality depth. Everything looks a whole lot rosier if we get one more defensive signing. Let's make it happen.


Sounders vs. Mariners - The battle for summer

The Sounders will be competing with a local team for much of the 2009 season. Both the Seattle Sounders of MLS and the Seattle Mariners of MLB will be playing through spring, summer and into fall. The schedule overlaps almost perfectly. And, of course, the two teams play next door to each other. Each will be fighting for the increasingly scarce entertainment dollars of the average Seattle citizen. The Mariners have been the regions most popular franchise for years, but incredibly, the Sounders have a very good chance at drawing more fans per game in 2009. Seriously.

How do I arrive at this seemingly outlandish conclusion? From the Sounders side, it's simple. With Qwest having a proposed MLS capacity of 24,500, and over 19,000 season tickets sold, it seems pretty likely that the club will sell out every game. If necessary, they might even open up some more seats (the Hawks Nest, to be specific), bumping the capacity to around 27,000. For this exercise, I'll play it safe and give the Sounders an even 25k, not counting friendly matches.

The Mariners, of course, have been trending in the wrong direction as of late. With last season being an abysmal failure by any measure, the attendence dropped to mirror that. For the first time since the magical 1995 season, the team drew less than 30k people - just over 28.5k, to be exact. They dropped by five thousand fans in one season. Now, unsurprisingly, changes happened for the M's over the offseason, including a new general manager who isn't a complete moron. And in the long term the club looks to be on the right track. But they aren't going to win this season, and a lot of fair weather fans have bailed on the club. The casual fan doesn't want to see a team that loses every year. And with the economy being in the toilet, another drop of a few thousand fans per game seems likely, putting the Mariners below the Sounders.

Of course this doesn't mean the support for the teams will be equal. That would be an insane suggestion. The MLB season has more than 5 times as many games, giving the M's a huge advantage in total attendence, and baseball (unlike soccer) draws historically well in Seattle. But for the Sounders to draw more fans per game would be a major victory, albeit largely a symbolic one. It would be a first in MLS history. And yet another sign that the club is primed for success.