It seems pretty logical that the Seattle Sounders FC will begin the 2009 season with at least one designated player on the roster. The owners have deep pockets (Allen, Roth), there is significant and impressive hype (14,000 season ticket deposits) and the team has been actively scouting everywhere from Europe to South America. There has been some speculation about both Henry and Riquelme, but I want to focus on some other possible transfers.
Here are 5 players, not including Henry or Riquelme, I think the franchise should consider.
5. Marcus Hahnemann, GK, Reading
A Seattle native, the 35-year old stopper leads the Premiere League in saves (225) and was named the Most Improved Player in 2006/2007. His contract with Reading will automatically renew for next season, but Hahnemann is unhappy with the deal and wants a long-term contract. Could that lead to him jumping ship and heading on home? He has certainly thought about it:
I could commute from my cabin. We (his family) have always thought eventually when we’re done that we would go back, but you never know when that will be. We always talked about if a team did start up in Seattle then we’d want to go back at some stage.
Now considered 3rd on the USMNT depth chart, Hahnemann is huge, agile and can be downright dominant between the poles. He would be a welcome edition to any team, let alone his native Seattle squad. I get the feeling he won't make the trip across the pond just yet. If he wants a spot on the 2010 World Cup squad, he is better served by staying in Europe.
However, if he is ready to start driving on the right side (no pun intended) of the road again, he could be a potential rock for the Sounders FC's defense. Using the designated player slot on a goalie seems almost unthinkable, but the appeal of having a local boy on the squad might be too much for management to ignore. Other European-based Washington State natives have expressed interest in playing for the squad, including Preston Zimmerman and Kasey Keller.
4. Brian McBride, F, Fulham FC
I know some of you are probably scratching your heads right now. What good is a 35-year old target forward with a beautiful golden mane of hair and detachable knee caps? Please, I implore. Hear me out.
He is the arguably the USA's most accomplished player on the club level. McBride started his career in the MLS with Columbus Crew, scoring 62 goals and notching 45 assists in 161 games. He also put in 12 goals in the 2006/2007 campaign in Fulham. Last year, while watching a Fulham game, I was truly amazed to hear the fans chanting, "USA, USA, USA," after he scored a goal at home.
He is also arguably our most accomplished international player. He scored 30 goals for the USMNT in 95 caps. He is the only US player to score in more than one World cup. In 2002, both of his goals were game-winners (against Mexico and Portugal). In the 2006 World Cup, he took a dirty, vicious elbow to the face from Daniele de Rossi. The image of his confused, bloodied face will forever be etched into the minds of US soccer fans.
He is essentially the Capitan America of soccer. He is the closest thing we have to an American soccer icon, a player who has truly made his mark both at home and abroad. His return to the MLS would be a welcome affair. He would easily become a fan favorite in Seattle, a city that knows and appreciates soccer.
The best part of it all? McBride's contract with Fulham ends this season. With Fulham being relegated (95% likely at this point), it is unlikely they will make an attempt to resign him. Therefore, McBride could return to the MLS on a free transfer. The $1.5 Million Fulham paid the MLS for his services in 2004? Pure profit. Although he might not be the most talented or flashy player on the list, his addition to the Seattle Sounders FC would make perfect sense.
3. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, F, Cardiff
Dutch striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink won the EPL's Golden Boot award in 2001/2002 with Chelsea. He was the Premiership's leading scorer in 1998/1999 with Leeds United and again with Chelsea in 2001/2002. Despite his impressive list of accomplishments and a catchy name, his contribution to world football seems lost on the average American soccer fan.
Perhaps his lack of international accomplishments play a factor in his relative anonymity. Competing for a spot at striker with Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Pierre van Hooijdonk and Roy Makaay made it tough for Jimmy to crack the starting line up for the "Orange" of the Netherlands. His biggest international accomplishment was a start for the national side in the 1998 World Cup. The fact he was selected to start with that much talent at striker is a testament to just how dangerous the Dutch national truly is.
Hasselbaink is old at 36, but still very fit. In 43 matches for Cardiff this season, he has started 35 matches and come on late in four. Besides a blood clot in his leg that nearly cost him his life, he has been very lucky, avoiding other major injuries. Despite his health, it is hard to deny that he is over the hill. His game revolves around his excellent pace, which always fades with age. However, his greatest traits are the cannons he has for feet, his power on the ball and his competitive fire.
Even at this age, he would score goals by the bunches in the MLS. (PS: Check out the 19-minute hat-trick) I have no doubt he could contribute, at least short-term, to the competitiveness of the team, despite his age.
Much like Hahnemann, spending the designated player spot on a lesser-know 36 year old striker might be a rash move. At least he won't command Beckham bucks. He would probably be paid Donavon dollars. He wouldn't be my first option, but if a few other potential deals fall through, his talent, passion, and history in the EPL would be a great addition to the Sounders.
2. Andriy Shevchenko, F, Chelsea
My second choice for a great DP would be Shevchenko. Why you may ask? Well he follows a trend of most Designated Players: Over 30, recognized by the average fan, and currently struggling to find time on the field with his first team. In fact, Schevchenko barely has a spot on the Chelsea bench. Lately he has been spending most of his time on the reserve team alongside the likes of Rhys Taylor (18 years old) and Carl Magnay (19 years old).
Once a gifted and feared scoring-machine, the real Andriy Shevchenko seems to have disappeared after the 2006 World Cup and subsequent £30 million transfer to the Blues. The ex-AC Milan stud scored 127 times in 208 matches for Milan. However, since his transfer to Chelsea has notched only eight through 43 matches.
Shevchenko has been linked with rumors of a return to the Italian side, AC Milan, but if the club is able to lure Ronalndiho, how much space will be left for Shevchenko on the pitch. Does he want to spend his last years of footballing in obscurity? Highly unlikely.
And that is where the MLS steps in with a multi-million dollar offer Shevy can't refuse. Not only would he be guaranteed playing time, but part-owner/Hollywood producer Joe Roth could put Andriy and his extremely hot AMERICAN wife in a couple of movies.
Although he would still like to prove his doubters wrong, Schevchenko's best days are clearly behind him. However, he would still be a force to be reckoned with on the field in the MLS. It would be a chance for a fresh start for the Ukrainian hit man and would also offer him and his family (2 children) a simpler life in our soccer-depraved nation.
He is marketable, well-known, good looking and married to a gorgeous women. He is like Beckham Junior. Say what you will about Beckham, but that is a good thing. Number 60 in the World Soccer Magazine's Greatest Players Of The 20th Century would be a great fit for the MLS and the Seattle Sounders FC.
1. Shunsuke Nakamura, M, Celtic
There is only one player in the MLB who has his first name on the back of his jersey. His name is Ichiro and he is the primary reason Seattle Mariner baseball games get better TV ratings in Japan than in the USA. Shunsuke Nakamura hails from Yokohama, Japan and is the reigning SFWA (Scottish Football Writers Association) Footballer of the year.
Some speculation surrounding the Seattle team name focused on MLS executives fearing that the name Sounders wouldn't translate well in Japan. I can only assume they are looking to the M's Japanese fan base as an example of great international marketing. Garnering a more international fan base would be a huge accomplishment for the MLS. Nobody is more perfect for the job than Nakamura.
Nakamura would not only be a huge a marketing boon to both Seattle and the MLS as a whole, but at age 29, he still has some years left in him. He possesses incredible touch and vision that make him a creator on the field. Furthermore, he is capable of scoring himself. Best of all, he is a free-kick specialist. Much like Beckham, he would provide the ten second ESPN sports clips we seem to love here in the USA.
The footballing world is rife with talent. Only a small portion of that talent is realistically available to the MLS. These players tend to be European stars closer to a nursing home than prolific bouts of goal scoring. While I have no problem with pre-geriatric superstars ending up in the MLS, what we really need is a coup. We need to sign a major player close to, if not in, his prime.
The Seattle Sounders FC may be capable of pulling off such a coup, due to the depth of the ownership's pockets and the designated player rule. Signing a player like Nakamura is not as big of a stretch as say, signing a player like Henry. Not only is Nakamura a talented player, but because of his origin, provides a marketing tool for the Seattle Sounders FC and the MLS that truly only Henry himself could rival. Because of his talent and international appeal, Nakamura is my top choice for the Seattle Sounder FC's designated player.