(Note: I did not include the late arrivals in my analysis, as I simply did not have sufficient time to justify an assessment on them. This includes Gonzalo Pineda, John Arroyo Zambrano, and Omar Brown)
Sunday's late morning match with Vancouver closed the book on Seattle's preseason trip to beautiful Tucson, Arizona. After almost a week and a half of two-a-days and exhibition matches, the team heads home prior to the traveling out to Charleston, South Carolina. Unfortunately for some though, this will likely mark the end of their journey in Rave green and Sounder blue as the coaches and front office continue their work to nail down the final roster prior to the March 8th meeting with Sporting KC.
Over the past week I've been blessed with the access and shear amount of Sounder's football I've watched and written about. This has easily been the greatest week of my sporting life. Period. So now I turn to wrapping up the week. Who continues on? Who's likely to depart? What are the positive and negative take-aways from the week? All these questions I'll answer based on what I've seen and what my gut tells me.
After 11 days I think it's safe to say that Dzenan Catic, Kevin Parsemain, Michael Azira, Jimmy Ockford, Damion Lowe, Tarek Morad, and Long Tan have shown more than enough to warrant continuing on.
And speaking of Parsemain, I wrote about it on Thursday, sign the man now. Not tomorrow. Now! He has the intangibles of a quality striker that this team needs to round out their strike force. His two goals thus far against Vancouver not only showed excellent finishing ability, which is an art form and something this team needs to do better, but it also shows he handles pressure well. The slightest loss of concentration and both of those goals disappear.
Catic is another interesting player to watch. Dave Clark, over at Sounder at Heart astutely pointed out that Catic does suffer from somewhat delayed decision making process which can often result in the closing of passing lanes and thus opportunities. But I do think this is something that can be overcome as he plays more MLS level soccer. His time during the Timber's match was an overall positive showing as he made some good runs, retained the ball well, and made some beautiful passes (over the top to Estrada comes to mind).
Damion Lowe and Jimmy Ockford, the first two picks by the Sounders in the 2014 Superdraft, have both shown very well thus far. Lowe specifically has a shockingly calm demeanor on the ball, and can distribute the ball well from the back. Ockford can also distribute, but his best quality appears to be his ability to appear everywhere and disrupt everything. He can also get up, and it's easy to see why Sigi has commented that Ockford is similar in many ways to Zach Scott.
Michael Azira has to me, grown the most over the last week. The first day at training I didn't notice him at all, and to be honest, in training, he doesn't show well. But during his opportunities on the pitch, he has been a surprisingly effective defender and distributor from the back, with the ability to intercept passes, stand-up opposing players, and push forward. A great package for a possible CDM/RB option.
And for those unfortunate enough to not continue on with the team, one hopes that they land other opportunities to play the game they love. From the lot of trailists that traveled down to Tucson, I see three not continuing on with the team. Miguel Gonzalez, Stefano Rijssel, and yes, Fabio Pereira are in my amateur opinion simply not ready or not fit for the rigors of the MLS.
Miguel Gonzalez certainly has a ton of energy, and likely a great heart, but over the past week it has become obvious to me, and perhaps to some of you, that he is fairly one dimensional in his play. He is an energy guy, very much in the same way of Mike Fucito, but lacks the technical ability and the guile necessary to succeed at the professional level as an attacking midfielder. I wish him the best.
Stefano Rijessel's situation is an interesting. Given the fact that he is already under contract with another club, partnered with his relatively pedestrian play through the week, I just don't see the Sounders making a commitment to attempt to sign him from his other club.
Now on to Fabio Pereira. If you've read my tweets during training and during the exhibition matches you probably would have sworn that he was a lock, but it simply isn't so. This pains me to say it, but I think Fabio, for all his positive qualities, still has some maturing to do. I think the game would overwhelm him at this point in his development and perhaps a year or two in the PDL/USL would benefit him immensely. And don't get me wrong, I hope that one day he can possibly come back to the Sounders, similar to what happened to Alex Caskey. But, if the FO and the coaching staff don't agree with him and decide to allow him to continue on, I will be more than happy.
There are certainly numerous aspects of the squad and their performances in Tucson to be happy about. My first take-away is the quality of the central defense with Chad Marshall, Djimi Traore, and Jalil Anibaba. I will also include Lowe and Ockford is this group as well because both have shown well. I told Alan Hinton when we spoke that this year would be the best year defensively this club has ever had, and I feel very strongly about that. I think we could have the best in the league statistically.
In addition to the defense, the wing play of Tristan Bowen and his determination to attack is wonderfully refreshing. For a team that I often called "offensively constipated," it's great to have a super-sub type option that can come on and isn't afraid to attack and pass.
Another positive development has been the growth of Dylan Remick. Maybe not a "budding MLS star" to some (I'm winking at you Tank123), his play against the Timbers was a true test that he passed. He is not Leo's replacement, but again, like Bowen, gives Sigi and the staff extra options. There is nothing bad about having some extra tools in the tool-chest.
The final positive isn't something I saw, but something I learned from my conversation with Alan Hinton. He made an interesting comment that he had never seen Obafemi Martins so happy, and felt that Oba appeared more settled. Whether that is true we will never know, but I find value in Alan's comment, and hope it translates into a healthy and productive year for the Nigerian #9.
The 0-0 draw against Portland brought to my attention one issue the squad continues to suffer from and will need to remedy if they plan on truly competing for the Supporter's Shield and MLS Cup. In its current form, the midfield still suffers from the ability to maintain possession against teams that apply high pressure as Portland did. The midfield lacks the ability to make quick short passes in tight passes while pressure bears down. Yes, it's preseason, yes, it is early, but this is something the team has always dealt with. I certainly expect the return of Clint Dempsey will help in settling down the midfield, but I still remain concerned that against teams who pack the midfield and apply pressure will easily unsettle our offensive flow.
Sure it's early, but as is customary on the internet, we knee-jerk a bit and get a little hyperbolic. So as we approach the start of the 2014 campaign, I'm tempering my expectations. Yeah, we have an overhauled squad, with new fresh faces and a world of possibilities, but keep in mind that the coaching staff remains. I was in the #SigiOut camp and to be honest will be extra critical this year, as we have heard many reasons why it didn't work last year. The off-season moves appear to be logical, and on the surface pragmatically thought out, so if the season starts off poorly, we cannot point to the roster as being the culprit (yes, I know it takes time to "gel"). Therefore, I expect better play this year, more effort (has the "run through walls meme" run it's course yet), and a better all around team.
Cheers to 2014!
For Photos, head over to thesoccerconvert.com