Steve Zakuani, Erik Friberg and Mauro Rosales have all seen significant minutes in the Seattle Sounders midfield this season. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Maybe we should have seen this coming, but we now have a bona fide position battle going on in the Seattle Sounders midfield. Through three games, we've seen three combinations, six different starters and eight players see time at the four standard midfield positions.
Only Osvaldo Alonso has started all three matches at the same position (ostensibly the center defensive midfielder), but it's also safe to say Steve Zakuani is the clear first-choice on the left side. Although Servando Carrasco has started, there's no reason to really think he's going to be reprising that role as long as injuries don't force Sigi Schmid's hand. That essentially leaves us with four players (Alvaro Fernandez, Erik Friberg, Brad Evans and Mauro Rosales) competing for two spots (the more forward central midfield and the right-side positions).
"It's good to have competition, you know?," Schmid said. "It's a matter of whoever's playing best is going to go out there and play. In the last game I thought Evans and Friberg did a good job. Both of them. Obviously Fernandez is a quality player who's scored some big goals for our club as well and he's a guy who can play there. Rosales is coming on.
"It's going to be interesting. Right now we're only playing league games. Obviously when we get to the other games things sort of resolve themselves, everyone gets playing time. Right now the games are limited so it's a matter of who's performing on a day-to-day basis. Those guys definitely have to be within their toes."
All four are also capable of playing multiple positions. Friberg has already played on both wings and at the more attack-oriented center spot; Rosales, the most veteran of the group, is perfectly capable at those same three positions; while Fernandez says his preference is definitely to play on the right, Schmid said he considers him capable at all threes spots as well; and Evans can play almost anywhere on the field.
"It's good because we have different options and sometimes it depends on what we need," Schmid said. "We felt we were better off with Evans in the middle of midfield against Houston because of just their physical presence there with (Geoff) Cameron. We felt he'd be a better match-up, so with those options we can looks at match-ups at times."
Of course, Schmid also said that long-term playing time is unlikely to be determined by match-ups.
"No, I lean more toward the hot hand, the one who's playing well, who's in form, who's physically 100 percent," he said. "Those guys are so close in competition that if somebody's walking around with a knock and is only 75-80 percent, chances are the other guy is going to be better."
That all four players bring different skills to the table makes this battle especially intriguing.
Evans: The Box-To-Box Option
There's no doubting that Evans has a special place in Schmid's heart. Schmid has now coached Evans on three teams, the Columbus Crew, the United States U-20s and the Sounders. There's no question that Schmid likes Evans' versatility, having used him as a defender, midfielder and forward at various times.
But versatility is only as useful as the skill of the player, and Schmid also has a clear appreciation for Evans' game. Schmid has repeatedly spoken highly of Evans' ability to make runs into the box. Evans displayed that kind of ability on Friday when he made a run into the box chasing an O'Brian White flick. Evans' run forced goalkeeper Tally Hall into coming well off his line and created a dangerous rebound. Steve Zakuani's attempt on the open goal went high of the goal.
"I hope to continue some good performances and kind of solidify my role," said Evans, noting that he's also tried to be more picky about when he makes those runs. "I think that's the thing I'm focusing on the most is just playing my game, getting back into a rhythm. Obviously I'm not 90-minutes fit so that's also something I've got to think about is I think I push a little bit too hard in trying to win that spot back -- to my detriment, I get maybe a pulled muscle or a tweak here and there."
Fernandez: DP Searching For A Role
Of all the players currently vying for time, Fernandez is surely going to get the most attention simply because he's a Designated Player. Fair or not, that status carries a fair amount of expectation, and it's hard to deny that he's not living up to that.
Since joining the team last summer, Fernandez has never enjoyed long stints of regular playing time, but he has shown glimpses of why the Sounders felt compelled to bring him aboard. He scored the goal that sent the Sounders through to the CONCACAF Champions League group stage in his debut and scored two more goals during MLS play. He's also been able to combine well with Fredy Montero, especially against the Red Bulls. He said he was "surprised" to find himself on the bench against the Dynamo.
"I felt like I had a good game the last game so I was a little bit surprised to have been taken out of the starting 11," Fernandez said. "But I'm a professional. These are the technical decisions and you have to abide by them and keep moving on."
Friberg: Catching The Coach's Eye
When the Sounders first signed Friberg, he was billed almost as a Brad Evans clone. He was supposed to be in the same box-to-box mold and not necessarily provide a lot of creativity on the offensive end.
Friberg definitely has a motor, but has not really shown much in terms of defense. Where he has impressed is on offense where it seems like every pass he makes his up the field. He's also been the primary corner kick-taker, which has seen mixed results.
It's not entirely clear where Friberg is bound to see most of his time, as he's started at three different positionsin the Sounders' three games, but he looks most comfortable in the middle and least comfortable on the left. In any case, he's endeared himself to coaches and fans alike, so we should expect to see plenty of him as the season rolls on.
Rosales: The Wily Veteran
Without question, the most decorated player in this bunch is the Aregentine. He has played for such big-name clubs as River Plate and Ajax, as well as the Argentina national team. In limited time, we can already see that he has quite a bit left in the tank, although it still seems like a longshot that he'll be playing 90 minutes anytime soon.
In his 41 minutes of playing time, we've seen a high-energy player who is constantly looking to jumpstart the attack. He looked especially dangerous against the Dynamo, but so did everybody. In the last few years, he's been more of a creator than a scorer, so we shouldn't expect him to put up huge numbers even if he ends up starting. In the short term, Rosales will most likely be used as the first substitute off the bench when the Sounders are looking for a goal.