The Seattle Sounders might have the most talented and accomplished group of forwards in all of MLS. Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins are coming off MVP-caliber seasons, while Kenny Cooper and Chad Barrett have combined for more than 125 career MLS goals.
While it might be tempting to think that recently signed Homegrown Player Darwin Jones will simply spend the year with S2, he's got other plans.
"They've told me that the opportunity is there for me to be with the first team and they want me to stick around and earn my time," Jones said when asked about what role he expects to play in his rookie season. "There are definitely minutes for me to earn. Once I get my foot in the door, I feel like I can settle in and go from there. I feel like I'll be spending more time on the first team."
One thing working in Jones' favor is familiarity. Jones has been a regular fixture with the Sounders' first team for the past few years, training with them whenever he was out of school. Unlike most rookies, Jones has the experience of playing alongside someone like Clint Dempsey or Obafemi Martins or to run at someone like Chad Marshall. In a preseason scrimmage against the Sounders' second team in 2014, Jones even scored a hat trick.
"It gives me a lot more confidence," Jones said. "Usually when someone makes that jump to a new team, it takes time to get that chemistry to get settled it, but I know everyone's name, they are nice to me, when I walk into the locker room it's just like at UW. I feel comfortable. I've played with all the best players that have been with this organization. They all respected me as a player, I've respected them and learned so much from them. I feel like I'm more prepared now than I've ever been."
Jones said the Sounders see him as a forward. But his college coach thinks being a wide midfielder may suit Jones' skill set just as well.
"He can do either," University of Washington head coach Jamie Clark said. "He's a good hold-up guy, he's very good 1v1 out wide. he can play wide and be an absolute handful out there. He can play up front, someone like [Mike] Fucito, small but strong and kind of a bull."
There's no question about Jones' talent. TopDrawerSoccer.com's Will Parchman thinks Jones is better than any forward available in this year's draft. Clark cites Jones' strength, speed and technical ability as ready-for-MLS skills.
But if Jones has one weakness, Clark said, it's that for all his goal-scoring prowess at UW, he wasn't always as good at getting into the box and scoring cheap goals.
"That's going to be his biggest thing," Clark said.
For his part, Jones seems willing to learn and itching for the opportunity to show it training every day. He's also going in with open eyes, well aware that nothing is guaranteed, even for highly regarded Homegrown Players.
"I've seen so many players come in and out of the organization," Jones said. "They leave just as fast they came in and I don't want to be that player."