Although the Seattle Sounders made it be known that they saw Eriq Zavaleta as a potential center back when they drafted him last year, they left little doubt as to where they see him playing going in the foreseeable future: forward. The Sounders used both of their picks during the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft to take players who are primarily center backs.
"We made a commitment with Eriq after preaseason, we tried him at center back and that forward was really the best place for him," Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid told reporters during a post SuperDraft conference call. "We loaned him out in the season as well to play at forward. We see him in our forward mix. From that standpoint, he can battle."
The Sounders have also picked up a few forwards during the offseason, but Schmid still doesn't see that as potentially harming Zavaleta's ability to get onto the field.
"He's different than the other forwards we have," Schmid said. "Zavaleta is more of a target guy. Up top, Oba [Martins] likes to be higher as well. Last year, he dropped back more with [Eddie Johnson] there. Zavaleta likes to be high, too. [Kenny] Cooper likes to move around a little bit. He still has an important role for us as we move forward."
The stability will hopefully be a boon to Zavaleta, who enjoyed his best collegiate success as a forward. Over two seasons at Indiana, Zavaleta found the back of the net 28 times and added nine assists. But after playing on youth national teams as a center back, the Sounders thought they might be able to find that rare commodity of a big-bodied player with good feet.
Zavaleta, still just 21, never seemed to get comfortable on defense, though, and was ultimately used only as a forward once the season started. Zavaleta only made five MLS appearances and logged just 31 minutes. He did play four more games with the NASL's San Antonio Scorpions and appeared in all 12 of the Sounders' Reserve League games, scoring a total of five goals in about 1,200 minutes in those games.