There's an idea floating out there that since the Seattle Sounders lost to CS Herediano that they aren't a deep team. The concept seems to put forward that a team that doesn't earn points in every competition just doesn't have the bench. Not only is this concept wrong, looking into its refutation can open eyes into how deep the team truly is.
For a team that has earned 72 pts in 38 games with a plus 24 goal differential in all competitions for a strong points per match of 1.89 they will of course be challenged to compete. The injuries to Steve Zakuani and O'Brian White did not wind up highlighting how weak the roster is, but instead forced Sigi to reach deep onto the bench and try different things. Due to success in other "minor" competitions like the US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League players who have been with the team since it's elevation to MLS have played four seasons worth of games already. There are still a handful of rookies and youngsters, but fewer than on most sides. Lamar Neagle said Thursday about rookies and youth earning respect;
I think with the success of the team and the success how many players are having there comes a kind of respect. As long as we're successful every body is happy.
The veterans clearly think that the lineups put out there are not just place holders, but a team that is expected to win. And while two weaker lineups have been put out in CCL play, those lineups split winning at CF Monterrey and losing at home against CS Herediano. The habit on this site of projecting the starting lineup has been more difficult this year than ever before, even though we are more often at practice and in tune with the team. That has been true because of lineup and role flexibility. At practice Thursday Mike Fucito responded to questions about scoring in every competition and the expectation of flexibility going into game day;
It's unique. It comes in handy in times like this when we have some injuries. Guys can come in at any point and step up and we can win games and be confident in who ever we put out on the field. That's a great thing to have. It's good for competition when everyone is healthy and it makes for a strong team.
The depth doesn't just show up in two players statements. It is apparent in the statistics across all-competitions as well.
Yes, there is a core of outfield players who play in the most games. Fredy Montero, Osvaldo Alonso, Jeff Parke and James Riley have all played between 77 and 88 percent of minutes. If there is one anchor it would be Alonso as he's in at 88%, but each has missed games for injuries, or cards, or both. But even with Alonso getting so many minutes other defensive midfielders have not just played 12%, but instead Servando Carrasco and Amadou Sanyang have 31% of available minutes between them. This indicates that Sigi is not just confined to specific roles, but in his depth he has a flexible roster that can do multiple things.
In no role is that more apparent than the wide midfielders. While the ideal first selections of Alvaro Fernandez (63%) and Mauro Rosales (62%) have the most minutes, the team has played so many more guys in those slots. Lamar Neagle (31%), Roger Levesque (35%), and Brad Evans (42%) have all started games on the wing. Evans and Levesque also slot into other roles. Levesque up top into the forward pairing shows more depth.
While there are a few pure forwards on the team - Montero and Fucito - the other guys enter the game as right mids and even centrally. That has lead to diversity up top. Guys that are nominally forwards have accounted for 11 assists to go with their 5 goals. Those three - Nate Jaqua, Pat Noonan and Levesque - have been providers more than scorers, and that isn't a bad thing on this deep team. Fifteen different players have scored goals, eleven of those more than one. The variety in providing them the opportunity is also a symbol of depth as seventeen have an assists, 14 with more than one.
In that other central mid position Erik Friberg has been healthier and selected most (57% of minutes). Evans though doesn't take up the remainder with only 41%. Both were wide men at points early in the season, and may be again with the Rosales injury. Depth and flexibility show up again, as Sigi can adjust his formation and strategy tactically both at the start of a match and through substitutions to hold or gain a lead.
Depth, role flexibility and adaptability are the hallmark of elite groups, whether in real life and the cross training of the Special Forces (even I was trained in trauma care, use of demolitions and heavier weapons usage as Intel support) or in fiction. In Ender's Game one of the keys to Ender winning so often in the Battle Room was that he used 5 rather than 4 toons. Those toons were then broken up into sub-toons and later Bean was given his own ad hoc toon. Where most armies would have four boys (at most) capable of taking command in Ender's system eleven were beind developed to become leaders. At the break up of Dragon Army eight of them were given their own.
In Ender's Shadow Bean's Army didn't win a game. He barely commanded his unit's at all instead expecting every single soldier to be ready to command at any time. Through the Shadow series at least two of his soldiers come to lead nations. Even in losing they grew to become great.
The journey of depth is not about a single game. In this case it isn't about having a First team and Second team. The depth of Sigi Schmid's team is about winning more games through a single year than MLS teams are expected to do so. It is about not just competing across every competition, but competing for silverware across every competition. Other coaches have already given up on multiple competitions (Hans Backe and Gary Smith quit on the Open Cup early, Smith has quit on the CCL). Hyndman in Dallas doesn't have the depth of Seattle and his team is going through a swoon.
There is no question, this is as deep a team as MLS 3.0 has seen.
72 pts in 38 games with a plus 24 goal differential in all competitions