Yesterday's Reserve game was more about Steve Zakuani than anything else. That isn't doubtful, but what else was intriguing were the starts of Aaron Kovar, Michael Gallagher and Jacob Beck. Dominique Dismuke would come off the bench and score in the second half. While it may have been forced by circumstances, this was the heaviest usage of Seattle Sounders Academy players in a home reserve game yet with 299 minutes logged by players from the U18s. Here's the thing, those starters played well overall.
"Obviously they were a lot more experienced team." Zakuani said in reference to the Vancouver Whitecaps. "We were young and it showed."
But it showed less in the second half. Adjustments were made. The biggest failures on the night were in defending set-plays. That was a team thing, not an Academy thing.
But Gallagher handled Darren Mattocks. Not just a little bit, but on average the U18 player won the battle against the second pick in the MLS SuperDraft. Gallagher will be at the UW learning from Coach Clark next year. He will not be playing with Andrew Duran for the first time, but instead with Drew White and Ian Lange. For one night his issues with communication weren't an issue. Jacob Beck, who I haven't seen much of while watching other Academy players, was at LB. He was defending against one of Omar Salgado, Michael Nanchoff and Etienne Barbara on the evening. He wasn't out classed. Some of his passes were off, but in his primary role as a defender he was decent. He showed promise. There is biggest need for development will be positional defense in one-on-one situations to make up for his size disadvantage. His passing and tactical awareness are strong.
But the big winner among the starters is Aaron Kovar. If I can be bold enough to declare a top tier for possible HomeGrown Player signings it would include current Sounders U23 players like Sean Okoli, Deandre Yedlin and Nick Palodichuk. Those three were part of last year's strong U18 run, have selections to national teams, are at top schools and are on short lists of top freshmen of 2011's college season. Kovar belongs in that conversation and maybe at the top.
In the first half of the Reserve game Aaron Kovar played like a CAM. His passing was generally crisp, created opportunities for both Steve Zakuani and David Estrada. He got back in defense and was a willing tackler. When turnovers happened he showed himself for short passes from Servando Carrasco or the backline. It was a good performance against a side that earned 32 appearances in MLS play this year.
The second half wasn't just good though. Moving to a more natural wide position Kovar's speed and crossing ability were shown off. It wasn't just about his sprint and endline ball that Dismuke finished. He created numerous opportunities. On throw-ins to his side (usually the right on Friday night) he would tell other players were to be. On deep throws he'd command the Sounders to get forward with high pressure defense and hope to create turnovers that would lead to unfinished chances. His passing and interplay with Roger Levesque (the RB in second half), Mike Seamon and Christian Sivebaek were intelligent and thought out. There were mistakes, but looked to be of familiarity not a lack of talent.
His dead ball service is good. From wide positions and corners he took the majority of those. While none were finished, the placement seemed intentional. It's a key role for a team and one they gave a to young player.
Aaron was a bit injured this year, only appearing in 12 USSDA matches, 8 of those starts. He scored three goals in that season. Last year, also with the U18s, he had 24 appearances (21 starts) and only 1 goal. In 2011 MLS Reserve games he earned 95 minutes of play in four appearances.
He has some hollow spots in his game. That's to be expected, but what he does with the ball is well thought. He's a leader beyond his age. He gets back well and has a bit of speed. Like all young players (HGP, GA, standard draft, international signings) he's a bit small.
But right now, if he was in the 18 on an MLS gameday it would not spell doom. He can compete, that's part of who he is. So why isn't he an HGP signing? That's still a philosophy thing. He's not going to be a regular if he signed today. But at Stanford he'll get a great education. His soccer skills and brain will continue to develop. Now with the Sounders U23s (they are in Tumwater at 6PM tonight against Timbers U23s) he'll likely be back in the area next Spring/Summer.
Aaron Kovar might not be ready for an HGP contract right now, but he could be. On other teams he probably would be. Right now, he's "just" a very capable player who has more than promise.