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Estrada, Long have possible futures in defense

These aren't the first players that Sigi Schmid will try to convert backwards within a formation, and they likely will not be the last.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Though David Estrada performed well as a forward on loan to Charlotte recently his future with the club probably lies as a fullback, usually on the right. Aaron Long, just acquired from waivers after the Portland Timbers released him, was a defensive midfielder who now will get looks in central defense.

This actually may be part of a pattern. There are nine of these projects and while none have worked out they all make sense. Seattle Sounders FC has several players that they've attempted to move back from more attacking roles to more defensive ones (eight of the nine). All but one of these came up through the American college system. They are generally men recognized for great effort. The forward moving projects was a response to injuries (Zakuani) and Clint's attempt at becoming a CAM was more about maximizing his touches.

These conversions are not about utility players (Evans, Levesque, Azira, Rose, Joseph), but about players who would get a single new position.

In 2009 Lamar Neagle was used in practices as a right back. The squad was stacked with attacking players and the undrafted free agent needed to do whatever he could to make the roster. He earned the spot but not the playing time. The other 2009 project was Mike Fucito. With only one pure left mid on the team Mike was Zakuani's back-up. He provided more defensive effort, similar speed and zero minutes. Both had their best seasons back at their more natural roles - Fucito in 2011 and Neagle in 2013-2014.

In 2012 Christian Sivebaek came from abroad leaving his old team because he didn't want to be a right back. In Seattle he was seen as the right back of the future, and didn't convert fully. He left quickly and after a great season as a RB with his next team he is now in the midfield where he is more comfortable.

The 2013 draft took a collegiate forward and immediately the talk was about taking Eriq Zavaleta and seeing if he could be an MLS centerback. It was a not-totally-unfamiliar role, but at high levels it would be new. The idea was that his passing and ball control would aid the team the most and he could get minutes. But Seattle discovered a need for forwards in training due to multiple injuries. Zavaleta's conversion was put on pause, until he was loaned to Chivas USA. He is now a regular centerback, maybe one with a future there.

Now in 2014 the attempts to see if Long and Estrada can earn minutes in defensive roles pull in some of the '09 theories about energy, effort and defense and some of the '13 idea about Zavaleta. If they can switch to be defenders they will have the ball skills of midfielders and forwards on top of their great motors. The main learning will be their ability to read the game. While neither are likely to become starting quality CBs there will be minutes available in 2015 in that backline.

This year's starters include players that are 34, 35, 30 and possibly sold. Primary backup Zach Scott will be 35. There's a bunch of youth in the line with Anibaba (maybe he's a vet now), Remick, Ockford, Zavaleta and Lowe around in 2015. Adding two more people into that mix and trying to get one or two of them as constants in the 18 on top of a signing will be necessary.

Conversion projects aren't glamorous. They don't often work, because by the time that a player enters MLS their role capabilities are generally well known. But trying to convert a quality player in a dense position to one where they have a chance is a way to maximize resources.

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