Mauro Rosales and Lamar Neagle showed why writers call the Seattle Sounders wide players wingers rather than midfielders.
A former trialist, a former Uruguay World Cup national team player and a Generation Adidas #1 pick headline the strongest positional set of Seattle Sounder FC. Sigi uses these men to be the playmakers on the outside, each in their own way. Two are used to chase long balls, only one is a traditional crosser and all tuck into take shots. These top three were as important to scoring offense as any set of forwards. Backing them up were a local man who succeeded in his return to the squad while learning his third role in three years, a former first round pick transitioning between roles and the ForMidFender who has to be listed somewhere.
No player demonstrated the global soccer market's flaws in churn, rumor mongering and sheer size than Mauro Rosales. From #TheTrialist picked up off of a scrap heap in Mexico he is now a DP quality player and the second Sounder to win the MLS Newcomer of the Year. Rosales stunned Seattle fans with his dribbling and passing skills. His vision was such that it seemed he always new the right time to cross, to dive in from the elbow or to initiate a multi-man passing sequence. The rangy player is able to speed down the flank and one time a cross into danger or flash into the box from a central position and shoot on goal. His defense also clearly demonstrates that Seattle plays with wingers not wide midfielders. Playing high up on the field his pressure tended to be light and he could be beat easily, but he'd always be ready to be the second man in a counter. His only other "hole" in his game might be a lack of strength on the ball as he'd get knocked down a bit too frequently. Rosales is the player rated second highest based on their 2011 tools review.
It is all too easy to forget how good Steve Zakuani was. And maybe our memories of his play lead to a lowering of his ratings. Even so he rates third highest offensively. Positional awareness defensively combined with a sometimes too frequent emptying of the wide left area without support frustrate some at times. Still Zakuani with the ball at his feet is a moment that causes even the most callous of crowds to rise to their feet. His footwork is special and vision impressive. Is there a bit of selfishness at times? Sure. There's also incredible goals from angles that should never be finished. While he may not win 10/40 metrics there is no Sounder faster with the ball. Zakuani uses that tool better than any, so much so that his lack of strength is rarely apparent. How much he can come back to a form that has always been magical may be the question of the year for Seattle's offense.
While Alvaro Fernandez took his time adjusting to the team and league after his World Cup appearances a funny little thing happened. The player who was seen by many here as being an ideal central midfielder became a huge offensive threat and maybe the most dangerous target of a high cross on the team. He's second on the team in scoring and points in the season and a half on the roster. There are times when he shows a certain flair with the ball popping the ball into dimensions that are often unseen on American soil. When used as a wide player he doesn't have the typical speed, but he does get back defensively more often than most wingers. Fernandez tends to find quite well. He doesn't take the physical abuse well, a problem that many players transitioning from Latin leagues carry, but if he can make the strides that Montero did Alvaro will be a complete player who can play anywhere in a band of three or up top as a left wing in a three man attack.
Lamar Neagle is a great off pitch story. But that story shouldn't overshadow what he did last season. He became a player who could provide offensive spark mainly on the left, but sometimes the right. Similar stylistically to Zakuani without the technical skills he uses speed quite well. Prone to taking a shot rather than passing to the open man in the box his special day against the Columbus Crew show how good that can be. Errors defensively are a bit too common and we'd like to see him shut down space when Seattle turns the ball over as well. Neagle is a useful player who can start for many teams, who if he makes a few advancements in technical ability and vision will force Sigi to make tough lineup decisions during the 2012 season.
Seattle's depth on the wing allows Sigi Schmid to try players in other positions. David Estrada's use in league play is only on the wing, but in Reserve play he was a CAM/WF and there was a practice experiment of him at rightback. Estrada's strengths are speed, dribbling and passing. He lacks a bit defensively but should improve with time. In ways he's a 5 tool kid who could develop into more and showed promise late in the season that may prove that he was worth that first round pick. Or he could wind up with a long career of use like veteran Roger Levesque. Levesque is multi-faceted in role, an opportune poacher who finds himself in great spaces quite often. He doesn't have the speed he did in the USL (where he once played as a CDM for a few games) and like all players at his age and skill is finding ways to continue contributing through desire and intelligent play. He may only rate as replacement level by authors here based on his tools, but a replacement level player who can play as a forward, either side winger and even at right back holds a lot of value when on a low contract.