CARSON, CA - AUGUST 25: Sammy Ochoa #26 of Seattle Sounders FC celebrates his second half goal during the MLS match against Chivas USA at The Home Depot Center on August 25, 2012 in Carson, California. The Seattle Sounders won 6-2. (Photo by Ric Tapia/Getty Images)
It seems funny to think about it now, but not that long ago there was some serious concerns about the Seattle Sounders' offense and their supposed lack of depth. Funny how a couple moves, along with some key players returning to health, can change perceptions.
The Sounders now sit on 65 goals scored through 34 competitive matches following their second-three goal performance in CONCACAF Champions League play. That's an average of 1.85 goals per game, which is considerably higher than last year's average of 1.56. Only the San Jose Earthquakes (1.90) have scored at a better rate in all competitions among MLS teams.
The fuel to this recent surge has been the Sounders' ability to utilize the roster depth that was so severely hampered during the midseason swoon when it seemed like each week had a new player going on the injury report.
Not only are the Sounders getting goals from players like Sammy Ochoa and Alex Caskey, but it's also the ability to keep from overtaxing starters like Fredy Montero, whose all-competitions pp90 (goals*2+assists/minutes*90) of 1.46 is well ahead of last year's 1.30.
Just about everyone seemed to agree that last year's Sounders squad was one of the deepest in MLS history. In 48 games across all competitions, the Sounders scored 75 goals and limited opponents to just 50. It was an impressive display, to be sure.
Individually, the Sounders were led by Montero's 18 goals and 12 assists, the most combined points for any MLS player last year. But he had plenty of help, as nine Sounders had at least five combined goals and assists.
As good as those numbers were, though, this year's Sounders squad is going to be even better. Montero already has 15 goals and nine assists with at least 13 more possible competitive matches (nine regular season, two CCL, two MLS playoffs). What's even more impressive is the supporting cast.
It's also worth pointing out that the Sounders' defense has also been pretty good. Their all-competitions goals-against average of 1.15 is the third best among MLS teams, with Sporting Kansas City (.80) and the Houston Dynamo (1.14) the only teams who are better.
Leading the way among the "reserves" are Caskey and Ochoa. After each contributing a goal and an assist against Caledonia, Caskey has three goals and seven assists, while Ochoa is on six goals and one assist. Each has tallied a goal in each different competition.
This role seems to suit both them almost perfectly. Caskey has clearly shown himself to be a useful player, especially coming off the bench as more of a change-of-pace kind of player. He's versatile enough to play all over the midfield and has shown a good ability to deliver a set piece. He's not necessarily a good defensive player and he's prone to some giveaways when he muscled off the ball, but he largely makes up for that with a dogged determination to get the ball back.
Ochoa is still not a complete player and has some holes in his game, but he's shown himself to have as good of a nose for goal as any player on the Sounders not named Montero or Eddie Johnson. He also provides a bit of a change of pace, as he's able to body up on defenders in a way none of the other Sounders forwards are. His deceptively good passing has only resulted in one assist, but I suspect that will change the more he plays. At 2.22 his all-competitions pp90 is basically off the charts.
Two other players that have proved productive despite seeing only spotty playing time are Andy Rose and Cordell Cato. In MLS play, Rose has carved out a role for himself as a hard-working central midfielder, but in outside competitions he's actually be a bit of a scoring force. His three goals and three assists in non-MLS games gives him a pp90 of 1.57, which basically Montero-esque.
Cato has not been able to find his way into as many games, but he's done enough in his other appearances to warrant mentioning here. The highlight of his season was the game-winning goal he scored against the San Jose Earthquakes in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal and his 1.02 non-MLS pp90 is the sixth best mark on team.
Starters rested and productive
One of the more overlooked aspects of roster depth is that it gives coaches a chance to rest starters without having to worry about a significant downgrade in talent. We've seen that in a big way with the Sounders.
In nine non-MLS games, the Sounders have gone 7-1-1 and outscored their opponents 25-12 (and that includes the 6-1 loss to Santos Laguna). If you strip out the games where most of the Sounders' starters played, they are even better at 5-0-0 with a 17-3 scoring advantage.
Aside from Montero, Johnson and Rosales have also benefitted from being able to get some rest. Johnson is actually on pace to play a career high in minutes and his 1.47 pp90 in MLS games puts him in position to possibly improve on his career-high of 1.50 in 2007.
Although Rosales' goal-scoring form is not on pace with last year's, you'd be hard-pressed to suggest he's not every bit as productive. His 13 league assists equals his total last year and his 15 assists in all competitions are more than he had a year ago. It's also a safe bet that he'll easily eclipse his minutes played from last year, as he's only 300 behind.
All of this should hopefully bode well for the Sounders as they balance the need to get as high a seed as possible in the CCL quarterfinals, put themselves in the best possible position for the MLS Cup playoffs and try to set themselves up for a strong playoff run.