There were some around the Sounders message boards and blogs that thought I underrated the USL players. At the end of the year though, none were starters. But one fell from being a starter (though likely just due to the health of other players) and another worked his way up from token nod to the past to becoming a key player on the club during the last third of the season. In the beginning of the season most expected that Sebastien Le Toux or Taylor Graham would be the best of the USL players.
By the end of the season it was clearly Roger Levesque who is the most important of the USL players, and the man behind the French Connection that just got it done. Steve Kelley called him the closer in the stands and pubs though the name is Le 'Stache. Seb Le Toux and Roger Levesque carry our history as a soccer city, but more than that they are the two most significant players for the Seattle Sounders winning the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup in year one. They eat other team's Rotational players for dinner, dessert are the reserve keepers in the League.
Roger Levesque: He will never win a fashion show, unless it is a costume contest to see who can do the best impression of a grunge singer impersonating 70s cop drama. But behind that facade that earns him love from the stands is a solid rotational player for an MLS squad. A man capable of playing as a Forward or a wide Midfielder, and if his USL days are any indication, he can even be a roving 11th man back on defense and up on the attack blocking lanes to help the backline, or filling those lanes ready to receive the pass. In a pinch he could be any Central Midfielder, and maybe even a Right WingBack. That great flexibility means that no matter how deep the bench gets Roger will always be on the bench if not starting - when healthy.
But, Levesque is more than just a utility player. He's a utility player that has come up in pressure situations. He doesn't do this by being faster, or more technical, or with highlight reel shots. Roger does this because he plays with a sense of calm and occupies the proper space at the proper time. He capitalizes on his rare opportunities. His play is intelligent, most apparent in his shot selection. Le 'Stache took only 15 shots in all competitions (558 minutes played) and 7 of those were on target, 4 wound up as goals. He was top two in both on target % (46.7%)and in conversion rate (57.1%) on the team. His goals weren't usually pretty, well except the flying header at Portland that was wicked. They were opportunities converted - pure and workmanlike. His plus/minus in league play was a mere +3, but due to lack of time his per 90 of that stat was a +1.04. Of course that doesn't mean that if Roger started 30 matches the Sounders would have a goal difference of +31, it merely indicates that Roger was very effective in his limited moments. In League play his PP90 was a 1.38 but in all competitions that explodes to a 2.10 from his 2 additional goals and five assists in Open Cup play.
Expectation for 2010 - Unprotected for Expansion Draft. Resigned by Seattle. Invited to training camp and making the roster. 5% chance taken by Philly
Short Term Peak - Rotational attacking player in League play, Starter in non-League play. More opportunities should mean that the 4/5 guy gets up to 7/6.
Sebastien Le Toux: Two extraordinary seasons as a USL Sounder set the expectation bar very high. He was the USL MVP, he had 24 goals in only two seasons. His performance in the Open Cup over those seasons was as good as any player from any league. He started his great connection with the fans then. He connected with the stands in a tradition he still maintains staying after every match - signing and posing for the fans. As the target man in the USL team's punt and run technique he used great speed to get ahead of the defense and solid shot taking skills. But there were questions about how he would convert to the MLS game, where speed is greater and it is much more physical.
Convert he did. For the 3rd time in four years Seba had to learn a new role. In MLS the coaching staff decided that his best role would be as wide midfielder (13 times on Left, 10 times on Right). So he had to learn a different role. A role where passing would be much more important, where defense would be key, a role that pushed him to become better than he already is. Defensively we all learned that his work rate is as strong as any player's on the team. He pressured throughout the pitch and as soon as the turnover was won he would sprint back to the offense. While his one-on-one defense isn't the strongest he harries players and forces mistakes. His passing though did not show the comfort needed, generally being just off target. But it was one year in a new role, and his solid play as the second most used corner man on the club and was nearly as good as Ljungberg. It is a skill that will develop.
Le Toux's numbers aren't the greatest for league play as a wide mid. He had a raw plus/minus of +7, with a +0.43 per 90. His productivity for league play was 0.31 essentially tied with Patrick Ianni and Brad Evans, but in non-league play his productivity was an impressive 0.73. To double that in such little time played in non-league play shows that his final numbers were quite good with 3 goals and 4 assists in about 500 minutes. There can be two theories as to why he was so good in non-League competition. One was it because he was a Forward again? Two was it because he faced lower quality defenses?
Expectation for 2010 - Unprotected for Expansion Draft. On long term contract. 1% chance taken by Philly
Short Term Peak - Rotational attacking player in League play, Starter in non-League play. More comfort as a wide player should mean he improves in League play could put up a 10/10 year.
Thoughts on the French Connection's future in Seattle? They will both be a tSupport Summit events, have you registered yet?
Past player recaps/expectations are here