Sigi Schmid didn't reveal much in his weekly conference call with reporters on Wednesday, but it does sound like this team is really rounding into shape. By the time the Seattle Sounders leave for Florida next week, the list of players still competing for roster spots will be anywhere from one to five names shorter. More importantly, we're starting to get a better sense of where players sit in the pecking order.
Among the new players, it sounds like Erik Friberg has been the biggest revelation. It was never entirely clear whether or not he was capable of challenging for starters' minutes, assuming Brad Evans was healthy, but it now appears that may be the biggest battle, at least among the starting XI.
"He’s a simple but effective player," Schmid said over his Swedish midfielder. "There’s not a lot of complications to his game, which is good because we have guys that take a little more time on the ball like (Steve) Zakuani and (Fredy) Montero. He can keep the ball moving. He has good vision for the forward pass. His energy level on the field is good. His timing on getting into box is good."
The thing Schmid seems to like most about Friberg is that he basically plays the same game as Evans. No matter who ends up getting the bulk of the minutes, the team will not have to adjust its strategic approach. Even the biggest Nathan Sturgis fan must have realized that the role he was filling was not the same as Evans, and that the team needed to adjust its tactics once Evans was lost for the year.
Like Evans, Friberg is a true box-to-box central midfielder who has the speed and stamina to both defend and make late runs into the box. For whatever reason, Sturgis - or Peter Vagenas for that matter - was just not that player. Schmid did not rule out the possibility of using Evans and Friberg together, but it would likely be with one of them wide, and it seems that Schmid definitely expects one of them to emerge as the clear starter alongside Osvaldo Alonso. It's also worth noting that Schmid seems very happy with the way Friberg is fitting in with the team, noting he already has three nicknames, which he declined to share.
As for the players at the other end of the roster, Schmid was more vague. While leaving the clear impression that there are players who have established that they are not in the team's immediate plans, he left us to guess exactly who that is. He did say that Servando Carrasco has been one of the more consistent rookies and that he's been pleased with goalkeepers Bryan Meredith and Josh Ford. He also declined to say just how many players we can expect to stay with the team as they get ready to change locations.
"We're trying to let it be very natural process," Schmid said of the decision on how many players to take to Florida. "Overall I feel very fortunate to have the difficult decision ahead of us because the guys have made it tough for us. Good players make you look like a good coach."
Among the more intriguing battles that should come into clearer focus in the coming weeks are who the third goalkeeper will be (It seems highly unlikely that they'd keep four) and which players will end up with the final six rosters spots, as opposed to spots higher up the salary chain. Players in those final six roster spots will be paid a minimum of $32,600 as opposed to the $42,000 minimum that rosters spots 1-24 will receive.
Schmid indicated that second-year players like David Estrada, Danny Earls and Miguel Montano are competing with the rookies for those final roster designations, even if they might not necessarily be in imminent danger of being cut from the roster, entirely.
"They’ve shown improvement, but they are all in a battle," Schmid said of his second-year players. "What you're looking for now in the rookies is how quickly do they adapt to the speed of play, and you try to compare them to what these guys were a year ago and see if someone has potential to develop faster or greater. It's almost like who can absorb information the quickest and put it to use."