Update: 20 JAN 12 Camp opened today and as expected there were more players invited. Particularly notable were two additional GKs, Andrew Weber formerly of San Jose and free agent Tyrel Lacey. This increases the competition at GK but shouldn't impact the remaining roster.
Thursday morning marks the beginning of training camp for the Seattle Sounders. Training camp is the MLS version of musical chairs. While the music is playing every one at the party gets to play. But once the music stops, some of these men are going to find themselves without a seat. The current roster of 28 players will be augmented in camp by 7 draftees and a collection of trialists. Competition just to make the roster is going to be fierce. Before camp starts, I want to take a look at how this competition is shaping up and explore some of the options that may exist for a player to make this team.
The simplest way to make a roster is to demonstrate to the coaching staff that you are one of the two most skilled players on the team at a given position. This will account for 22 spots on the roster. In reality, due to the injuries to Steve Zakuani and O'Brian White, this will account for 24 spots on the Sounders' roster. The mandatory 3rd GK is going to take one of the remaining spots bringing the total roster to 25. This leaves 4-5 spots for the team to add developmental depth and take a chance on a player.
If we look at the returning players and the off season acquisitions, a few areas of competition become obvious. After the jump, we'll look at the Core team position by position.
GK - Right now the team has 3 GKs. Unless they bring a veteran or trialist, these men will make the team. I expect that the team will invite someone else, if just to run two games simulatanously. But for now there isn’t any competition.
CB - The team currently has 4 returning CBs in Hurtado, Parke, Ianni and Scott. This fills the 4 basic slots available. They also drafted two CBs in Andrew Duran and Tim Pontius and invited Harlington Gutierrez from Honduras. I look for the team to carry at least one more CB with the retirement of Taylor Graham.
LB - The team currently has 3 LBs: Gonzo, Burch and Tetteh. The two slots at this position are taken on paper and one of these players is competing for one of the remaining 4-5 roster spots. They've also drafted another LB in Wes Feighner and invited Honduran Ever Alvarado to camp. Chris Henderson talked about Feighner's character, athleticism and the fact that he is right footed. I have a hunch that the team will give him a look at RB.
RB - The team has only one clear RB, Johannson. Earning the second RB spot is one of the easiest ways for a player to earn a spot on the roster. We’ll explore this opportunity in more depth in a moment.
CDM - The team has two in Ozzie and Carrasco. Returning prospect Amadou Sanyang nominally slots in here.
CM - The team has one certain player in Evans. This will be another area of competition. If a player can assert himself as an CM in Sigi’s Arrow he will earn a spot. Mike Seamon and Supplemental Trade pick Andy Rose will battle here.
RW - Mauro is the clear 1st team player here. The team has many options for the 2nd team player and I expect this role to be one of the most hotly contested roster spots. More on this spot in a moment.
LW - Zakuani, Flaco and Neagle come into camp occupying these slots.
FWD- The team has 5 forwards with Montero, Fucito, Ochoa, Cato and OBW. The team will be looking for one more option at forward as insurance against OBW’s injury. They drafted two additional Forwards in Babayele Sodade and Abdul Aman..
This means that realistically there are 4 slots up for grabs in the Core 25: RB, RW, CM and FWD. Let’s look at how the competition for each of these slots shapes up on paper.
Right wing is probably going to be the fiercest camp competition. Christian Sivebaek, Jason Banton and David Estrada are going to claw for this roster spot along with some of the incoming trialists including players like Ngassa or Cato. Roger Levesque has also earned a position on the roster by being able to play here. On paper, Sivebaek looks like the frontrunner for the spot, but he will need to earn it and David Estrada and Jason Banton won’t go down without a fight. Ngassa's Tanzanian team is bending over backward to enable him his best possible shot at making the team. He should be highly motivated. If the team can secure some depth here, then they potentially shift either Rosales or Flaco into the CM.
The fifth forward is shaping up to be a battle between draftees and trialists. The team drafted 2 forwards; Babayele Sodade and Abdul Aman. They appear to have also invited Ngassa. Sodade may have the inside track because he provides the team its first true Target Forward option since Blaise Nkufo, but he will need to demonstrate that he can make the transition to the MLS game, though Cato is under contract.
Center mid is the third place on the core roster where an opportunity exists. Michael Seamon returns to the team, but he could be pushed. I expect that the Sounders will take a long look at Andy Rose here. In case you missed it, Rose was acquired in a trade for the rights to Leone Cruz. Rose was taken as the 6th overall pick in the Supplemental Draft and was a holding MF for UCLA with some experience at CB. He's been a leader wherever he's played and the team likes his soccer brain. I think that his acquisition may turn out to be the most significant move the Sounders made during the Supplemental Draft.
Rightback may be the most wide-open possibility in camp, particularly since camp will begin without Johannson. (He is currently training with the Swedish MNT and will not arrive with the team until February.) On paper, Zach Scott could be listed as either a 2nd team CB or RB. But I expect the Sounders would only like to use him at RB in special tactical situations. If one of the incoming or returning players can show promise at RB, that player will have a much better opportunity to make the roster. Returning players like Amadou Sanyang or Roger Levesque can solidify their position if they can play RB. If any of the newly drafted Defensemen can demonstrate that they can handle RB or better yet offer a tactical option at RB, they will likely earn a spot on the roster. Listening to Sigi, I think that the team is really hoping that their 1st round pick Andrew Duran can do just that. I won't be surprised if Wes Feighner and Ever Alvarado don't get looks here as well. Sivebaek can also enhance his flexibility by showing a willingness to play at RB should the team need him there. Much has been made of his comments concerning wanting to play RW rather than RB. But there is a spot on the roster at RB and as I mentioned before, RW competition is going to be a cat fight.
Final 4-5 Slots
The last few spots on the roster are going to be interesting. An MLS roster does not offer the luxury of carrying a complete 3 deep depth chart. Furthermore, the final two roster spots can be converted to Allocation Money. On a team with the budget constraints that the Sounders face, this option looms large. The Sounders FO has indicated a preference for carrying 29 players. The injuries to Zakuani and OBW may cause them to rethink this option, but for now it pays for all of the players to assume that there are only four additional slots up for grabs beyond the Core 25. It goes without saying that these spots will need to be cheap. But the difference between an offcap Senior salary or Apprentice player salary are not significant enough to matter for this discussion. So how can a player separate himself from the pack and grab one of these coveted spots? Let’s look at some possibilities.
Provide Veteran Leadership - The 2012 Sounders are going to be relatively young. Roger Levesque and Zach Scott both offer experience with their skills. This weighs in their favor if they don't earn a core spot.
Allow for Tactical Flexibility - The 2011 Sounders demonstrated the value of being tactically flexible. If a player can provide the team with another style of play off of the bench that fits into Seattle’s tactical makeup, that player dramatically increases their chances of making the franchise. For example if Babayele Sodade can offer the team a true target forward option, this might be enough for the team to carry him as a developmental player.
Positional Flexibility - Injuries happen in professional soccer. Any player who can play multiple positions well increases their cache with the team. Levesque, Scott, Sivebaek, Burch, Duran and Rose all appear to give the team leveraged depth. The key will be to show that the player can handle all of the roles.
Developmental (youth) Balance on Defense - With the retirement of Taylor Graham the team appears to want to carry at least one more defensive player and probably two or three. The team is bringing 3 extra CBs to camp for a reason. The team also has multiple players coming to camp who can play either LB or RB. Clearly the team wanted to make a tactical change at the back and players who fit into that tactical shift stand a good chance of making the team.
Upside Potential - A young player who shows that they can develop into something special is also an advantage. But the clock is ticking.
Work Your Butt Off - One of the most telling aspects of the Sounders has been the coaching staff rewarding hard work. This camp will be no exception. Every player who makes this roster will have a serious work ethic.
With this level of competition, I think that the last few slots will go to players who offer many of these things. Right now we know two things. First, at the end of training camp, some of these men will not be Sounders. Second, this should be a really fun team to watch when we take our seats as fans. Cue music.