Three matches into the new season and the Seattle Sounders still haven’t found what they are looking for — at least not yet.
What haven’t they found?
They haven’t found their first victory.
They have yet to settle on the perfect combination in the midfield, or possibly in the back four, and they have yet to prove that their current strikers can supplant the need to shell out for a proven goal scorer from Europe or Latin America.
But is that a reason to panic? Not quite yet. Much will depend on how the team performs over the next several matches — beginning with the San Jose Earthquakes at Spartan Stadium this Saturday.
Until then, the more intriguing competition will occur on the practice fields, since nearly all of the players are now injury free and pushing for a starting spot.
The most intense battles certainly will focus on the midfield positions. There are six quality midfielders challenging for four spots. Add rookie Servando Carrasco, who has impressed, and it climbs to seven.
Defensive midfielder Oswaldo Alonso appears to be a lock as does Steve Zakuani on the left wing. But the other two positions are up for grabs.
“Its good to have competition. Its a matter of whoever plays best will go out and play,” Coach Sigi Schmid said, referring to his midfield group. “Right now, the games are limited, so its a matter of whose performing on a day-to-day basis. Those guys definitely have to be on their toes.”
Brad Evans made his season debut Friday night and made a strong case for a starting spot in the center of the midfield. He played a very respectable 70 minutes, offering several of his patented box-to-box runs. He nearly scored early in the first half after he surged into the six-yard box, chasing an O’Brian White pass that he nearly got his foot on. He also looked sharp defensively and held his own physically against a strong and physical Houston team.
“I hope if I continue with some good performances it solidifies my role,” Evans said, who expects to play about 70 minutes until he reaches full fitness. Evans, who is returning from knee injury, says the competition creates for a “better team and for better competitiveness during practice and in the game. If youre not performing, someone is going to fill your spot.”
But it’s at the right side of the midfield that promises to generate all the action at practices. If Evans appears to have secured the center midfield position for the moment, it then comes down to the three foreigners — Erik Friberg, Mauro Rosales and Alvaro Fernandez to duke it out for the remaining starting spot.
Fernandez, one of two designated players for the Sounders, started the first two games and was subbed out in both. He said he expected to be subbed in the first game but was surprised in the second. He lost his starting spot to Friberg against Houston and did not see any action.
“I havent really talked to him (Schmid)about what I need to do,” Fernandez said, through an interpreter. “I need to play the best I can play to get back in the starting line up.”
Friberg has started all three matches due to injuries and his performances. His best position is probably in the center of the field but he played on the left and on the right sides in the last two matches.
Rosales replaced Evans and moved to the right side in the Houston game. He had an immediate impact on the match. He won some early tackles, beat his opponents down the right flank and sent in several teasing and nearly dangerous crosses. He’s still behind in his fitness but appears to be catching up quickly.
“Steadily, I hope to play more minutes, help the team anyway I can, and I’m ready to offer my best work, and when you work, you get the opportunities,” Rosales said. “I can play on the right side and in the middle. But always in attack.”
Rosales said, following the Houston game, that he has played most of his career on the right side. But he is comfortable anywhere in the midfield — even at striker. He said his 20 minutes against Houston was a glimpse of what he is capable of doing. He likes to attack, win balls and make things happen.
Either way, the competition should theoretically make the midfield and the team even stronger and offer Schmid options when the Sounders enter the U.S. Open Cup and the CONCACAF Champion’s League. It’s clear that performance and fitness will dictate who starts.
“Weve got a lot of players working really hard to get into the starting 11,” said Alan Hinton, former head coach of the NASL Sounders and a current Sounders TV commentator. “Hell (Schmid) play the player he thinks will win the game.”
The same intriguing competition is being waged in the center of the defense. Patrick Ianni is now fully fit, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is still returning to match fitness and Jeff Parke has been starting all of the matches. Schmid now has three quality center backs capable of starting.
Ianni was mostly injured in preseason, so there never was a competition for those positions, Schmid said. But now that has changed, particularly with Hutado struggling to find his form, even though that is expected to be a temporary condition.
“All three of those guys are MLS capable defenders,” Schmid said. “We never had enough of an opportunity to look at the different combinations and what worked together best. So the combination of Patrick and Kennedy (Hurtado) we never really got a chance to look at. Im sure at some point that is going to happen as well.
If all of these pieces fit together, will that be enough to take the Sounders deep into the playoffs this season? Perhaps so, but much will depend on whether the Sounders strike force can finish their chances.
The players and coaches insist finding the net is just a matter of time. But finding a top-class striker could certainly cinch the deal.
My starting 11: Keller (G), Gonzalez (LB), Parke (CB), Ianni (CB), Riley (RB), Alonso (CDM), Zakuani (LM), Rosales (CAM), Fernandez (RM), Jaqua (F), Montero (F)
1st 3 off bench: Friberg, Evans, Carrasco
I don’t want to ever see Scott, Levesque, Noonan, or Neagle on the field again. These guys are just not good enough to play on a championship calibar team and I believe that’s what we’re trying to be this year.
If Fucito ever gets healthy he should be the first striker off the bench.
The White/Montero combo does not work because we need a forward who can work with his back to the goal, receive and hold balls, take away attention from Montero, and distribute to midfielders making runs. Jaqua can be that guy if he stays healthy.
Evans is a decent player, but noone can convince me that he is a better attacking middy than Rosales, Friberg, or Fernandez. He makes runs to nowhere and gets himself out of position too often, leaving noone in the center of the field, and he is not creative or skillful enough to create on his own. A good attacking center mid stays in position, is solid on the ball, and creates positive attacking opportunities for other players.
Hurtado is not the same player he was before his injury. He is hesitant, indecisive, and a step slow. He needs more time to get his confidence back. Right now, he’s a liability for us when he’s on the field.
James Riley, I have a request: Please don’t streak forward everytime we have the ball on the offensive end. It can be a good tactic for your outside back to make runs forward on occasion. But it’s ineffective and puts your backline under pressure when you do it everytime down the field. That’s the same reason why I can’t stand to watch Sergio Ramos play. There’s no such thing as an attacking defender!
I really like what I’ve seen so far from Mauro Rosales. I think he was a steal for us and will be a great influence on the field and off. He speaks English and Spanish, he’s creative and skillful on the field, he hustles (so far), and he brings veteran experience to the offensive end.
It’s nice that we have depth in the midfield, but I’m worried about our lack of depth up front and in the back.
What happened to Michael Tetteh? Did he make the team? He’s got to be better than Zach Pass-Back Scott.
And finally, Osvaldo Alonso is the MVP of this team and is the best open field tackler in the league.
I’m not an expert, but I like to think I know a thing or two about soccer. I’m a huge Sounders fan and I have a lot of opinions about the team.
Let me know if you agree or disagree with my points.
I think you make some excellent points.
My thoughts are this: I think Friberg should be one of the starting midfielders — is first touch is impeccable and his passing vision immense. So should Rosales as soon as he is fully fit and continues to build on his performance against Houston. Fernandez has yet to really convince me he should start, let alone be a DP. Still, he has quality because we’ve seen flashes of it. Not quite sure what the problem is.
For now, Sigi has tapped Brad Evans to be the CAM, so whether you agree, the reality is Evans is going to pull the strings in the middle of the pitch.
Essentially agree with you about Zach Scott except the coaches believe he’s got a competitive spirit that is good to have in the squad. I have to say he did neutralize Brad Davis of Houston, one of the MLS marquee players. He has that certain je’en sais quoi that has many underestimating his effort that makes up for his lack of technical ability. He’s also a cheap date:)
Tetteh is on the team and will eventually make his presence known, initially more as a late-substitute left winger than as a left back.
Agree with you on Hurtado. He needs time to regain confidence and form. Ianni is a competent player. But the Sounders will need a fully fit and confident Hurtado to pursue a championship.
As for the front line, a fully fit Jaqua could possibly take pressure off Montero but he’s got to perform at a higher level than his first season with Sounders. Anything is possible but I’m skeptical.
Again: Sounders solve their scoring problems and give them themselves a serious shot at the MLS Cup if they break out the piggy bank and splurge on a proven striker. But I mean they have to really splurge.
Sigi has done an able job of putting together a stronger squad than last year while having to live under the salary cap restraint. Most of the pieces are in place.
But they need to use their last lifeline — that final DP slot on a striker of true quality if they want give themselves a realistic chance to win a championship.
Thanks for responding!
I agree with your point about Friberg vs. Fernandez. I think Friberg has shown us more positive play and potential in three games than Fernandez has in all the time he’s been with the team. The only reason I put him in my starting 11 is because I have a difficult time coming to grips with the fact that we’re using a DP spot for a guy who sits on the bench. It’s probably the right move to have him come off the bench, but that makes me wonder…why is he on the team? Maybe we should let him go and free up another DP spot. He hasn’t been a real great player for us so far. What are the options for dumping Alvaro? Can we trade him? Would getting rid of him make it easier for us to acquire a top striker?
Also, I understand that Sigi really like Evans in the CAM role, but if I’m reading your tone correctly it sounds like you’re not crazy about that either. What do you think about Brad Evans in that starting spot? Can we win a championship with him as the starter? Do you know why Sigi likes him so much over the other guys? I really hope Rosales works hard and takes that spot from Evans.
Evans has played for Sigi at Columbus and on the US Nats U-20 team, so there is a history between the two that goes deep. Sigi is a loyal to players he likes — and who he believes have and can perform for him. I think Evans has some skills and assets that can help the Sounders — as can the rest of the midfield corps — which is probably the strongest group in terms of overall talent.
I don’t think Evans or the midfield is the problem. The Sounders won’t win a championship because they don’t have a quality proven goal scorer to take pressure off Montero.
That’s a little disappointing that Sigi is so loyal to the guys he “likes.” That does explain why guys like Levesque and Scott are still around. As a coach of a professional team he should be concerned about winning only and that means putting the best players on the field.
That being said, I agree with you that Evans and the midfield are not the problem right now. And I agree that we need a “quality proven goal scorer to take pressure off Montero.” It seems like the Sounders are positioning themselves to get that guy with the release of Nkufo and I don’t doubt that they have pieces moving to make that happen.
Here are my questions on that: Who? When? How? Where from?
What about the idea of dumping Fernandez to free up more cash/cap space?
What about the Forlan rumors?
Roberto Carlos, Dani Alves, Maicon, Cafu, Lucio, almost any Brazilian outside back: all attacking defenders. One thing that these guys all have in common is excellent ball skills. When a player attacks out of defense, they obviously leave space which can be exploited by the opposition. That’s why these guys can’t lose the ball. That’s the real trouble with Riley. He’s just not good enough on the ball to really play the role of wingback. Honestly, nobody on the Sounders is.
Ok Ok, I stand corrected. I agree with you. The guys you named are attacking defenders. I was wrong in saying “there’s no such thing as an attacking defender.” But it’s rare and it should be rare, because it takes a special player (like you said) with excellent ball skills. It is very risky to attack from the back and the Sounders don’t have any defenders skillful enough to pull it off.
James Riley, PLEASE stay in position and limit your forward runs. You’re not Roberto Carlos.
before the start of last year, nobody would have predicted how Mike Williams would play. I love that he ended up being such a great receiver for us, but here it is, not even a game officially played, and its all about TJ being a weak link?
The Media is all about the bandwagon but you will end eating those words.
The Miami win was my favorite in part because of the 58 game win streak ending but also as I recollect a Miami head coach Dennis-something stated ” the loser of this game should consider the winner the national champion” or words to that effect relating to the shared national title.
This is just journalistic pessimism! Washington was part of the PAC 8 hinterland until Don James brought the program to something approaching parody with the Southern California Schools in 1978. So I’m not going to let the record, and all this negative talk harsh my buzz for this Saturday’s match-up. It’s going to be a proving ground for both teams. Unfortunately, I don’t see us prevailing in the trenches on either side of the ball. But ya know, that football is a funny shape, and it doesn’t bounce in any predictable way. Same can be said for college kids, and that’s why it’s a great game!