SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 14: Alex Caskey #27 of the Seattle Sounders dribbles against Luis Zapata #21 of the Colorado Rapids at CenturyLink Field on April 14, 2012 in Seattle, Washington. The Sounders defeated the Rapids 1-0. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
This being a bye week, we're all searching for stuff to talk about. The topic du jour seems to be the Seattle Sounders' depth, or perceived lack there of. It's been debated here in the comments sections, but got a little bit more of my interest because of stuff that has been said over at MLSsoccer.com (where I also write, in case you hadn't heard).
In this week's power rankings, the editorial team had this to say about the Sounders (while also moving them up to No. 4): "the depth just doesn't seem to be there like it was in 2011." Ironically, that story published the same day that I wrote something at the same site lauding the Sounders' depth.
Who to believe, indeed?
You probably don't need to be a mind reader to know which line of thinking I buy into. But, I will admit that there is some room to doubt me.
One of the measurements of squad depth is how teams fare in Reserve League play. By that metric, the Sounders are not looking so hot. After dominating Reserve League play a year ago, they're off to a 0-2-1 start, including a rather frustrating 2-0 loss at home to the Portland Timbers last week.
Looking just at Reserve League results, though, strikes me as a bit unfair. For starters, Ezra Hendrickson's team has rarely been filled with bonafide reserves. Each game, he's had to lean on academy and guest players just to field a full side. The reason? Many of the Sounders top reserves are getting meaningful minutes with the first team.
So far, those reserves have acquitted themselves quite nicely.
Just consider this: The Sounders have used different starting lineups in every game this year and needed to use 19 different starters. Only D.C. United has used as many different starters and they've had one more game to do it in. It's also worth pointing out that United has just eight points through six matches with a +1 goal-difference.
The Sounders, by contrast, sit at 10 points through five matches with a +4 goal-difference. That's the fourth best points-per-game average and fifth best goal-difference in the league.
The teams ahead of the Sounders in both categories have largely managed to use similar lineups in each match. Sporting Kansas City, which is currently a perfect 6-0-0 has used just 12 different starters and only had to use two different lineups. The San Jose Earthquakes have used 14 different starters in six matches. Real Salt Lake, who many tend to think has the deepest squad in the league, has used 17 different starters in seven matches.
The Sounders' "depth" players have also performed reasonably well. Zach Scott is coming off a stellar game at right back, and, while he lacks the passing creativity of Adam Johansson, he provides some solid defense. David Estrada, who started out the season as place-holder for Eddie Johnson, may well have earned himself a permanent starting job and leads the team with five all-competition goals. Similarly, Patrick Ianni appears to have claimed one of the starting center back spots for his own. Alex Caskey has an assist in his one start. Marc Burch has given the Sounders decent play and may even be an upgrade over Tyson Wahl.
When this team is fully healthy, some of these guys may not even make the 18 every week.
Is this team as deep as it was last year? I honestly don't know. That team had legitimate MLS veterans like Pat Noonan and Nate Jaqua spending time in reserve games and this year's team certainly lacks that kind of presence. But when it comes to the ability to overcome injuries and fatigue, this year's team has passed the early tests with flying colors.