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Back-up Right Back - What Will They Try Next

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James Riley can't play every minute of every game in all three competitions. Who should be his backup?
James Riley can't play every minute of every game in all three competitions. Who should be his backup?

In the friendly against Manchester United we saw David Estrada finally replace James Riley. The original plan seems to have been that Riley would get rested by Brad Evans, but the aggravation of Evans' injury meant that he wasn't able to go long enough. With Seattle firmly entrenched in three tournaments it doesn't matter that Riley is one of the fittest players on the team, they will need someone to back him up, and there are only interesting options with no one a lock.

The recent insertion of Estrada points out two things. First is that Zach Scott used to be in that role, but he's now more often a centerback. Scott during league play has started as a right back, but if he's playing as a CB in the CCL he can't also be the RB, or left back as he's also been used at times. Leo Gonzalez and Tyson Whal are both left sided players, with Leo being pushed into a left mid and even a center defensive mid role on rare occasions. Seattle has also used both Patrick Ianni and Jeff Parke as right backs at times, but again, their home is in the middle. The Sounders need that depth in the middle as much as they do on the outside.

The second thing that the use of David Estrada there shows us is how Sigi views that right back role. And here is where things get very interesting.

James Riley in college, and in his early MLS roles, was both a midfielder and a defender. His technical ability on offense is strong. He's able to beat his opposition (usually a left mid) on the dribble and is generally a nifty passer and solid crosser. His biggest weakness on defense tends to be his ability to recover from being too far forward which leads him to frequent sliding tackles and tactical fouls. When in the proper position his defense tends towards the league average. But he's clearly there for his ability to add to the offense.

In 2009, Lamar Neagle was seen as a possible future right back. The team liked his ability to range up the right touchline and his crossing. During his 2010 season he become a right forward/mid and is obviously now a left mid with a decent cross and penchant for shooting. Neagle's future seems to be at left mid now, and his performance as an attacking player makes it unlikely that they test his right back skills again.

Briefly in 2010 we saw box-to-box center midfielder Brad Evans briefly placed as a right back both with the United States team, and moments with the Sounders. In this case it was his tactical acumen that seemed to be what attracted the coaches to putting him there. Evans' solid defense and strong passing fit the role well, but the conversion didn't seem to suit him in his brief usage there, though he may have a future there long term.

Now in 2011 we've seen two more attempted conversions. Early in the season it was Roger Levesque. While Levesque isn't necessarily pacey, he does have the lungs and legs to run end to end. His passing and dribbling aren't as strong as we've seen in Riley, but his defending at the forward role is solid and his effort will never be questioned. With Levesque starting most league matches at forward it seems this experiment is over.

Estrada has strong technical skills, but his speed and decision making don't compare to the other players in the attacking mix so it shouldn't be a surprise that the coaching staff is now fiddling with the idea of teaching him the way they use the right back. While it is true that a proper wingback plays in an odd number defensive line, Seattle uses their fullbacks in the four defender system to get forward as much as any wingback. Estrada's speed may have a future there.

At this point we may even see the conversion of a Mike Seamon to the role. He'd be more like the attempt at changing Brad Evans, but he seems to be on the outside of the mix in the central midfield roles (behind Alonso, Friberg, Evans, Carrasco and Fernandez) and though not as fast as some of the others tested at the right back has some decent defense with a short passing repertoire.