The writing seemed to be on the wall when Eriq Zavaleta did not report to Seattle Sounders training camp. Now we know why. The former first-round draft pick and Generation adidas player was traded to Toronto FC for a 2016 second-round pick, effectively signaling the Sounders saw Zavaleta as a sunk cost. The move also reunites Zavaleta with his uncle, TFC head coach Greg Vanney.
"We want to thank Eriq for his service to our club," Sounders Head Coach Sigi Schmid said in a brief statement. "We wish him the best of luck in Toronto and throughout his career."
It's a rather ignominious end to Zavaleta's Sounders career that started with quite a bit of promise. After leading the nation in scoring his sophomore year, the Sounders were willing to send allocation money to Toronto FC in order to move up from No. 16 in the 2013 SuperDraft to select Zavaleta with the No. 10 pick. Zavaleta had been one of the top prospects coming out of college, but his stock fell partly because it was unclear if he'd make a better forward or center back as a pro.
Despite his offensive prowess, the Sounders were convinced they could make him a fulltime center back, a role he'd played mostly at the youth national team level. But after attempting to get him comfortable in that position throughout preseason training camp, the Sounders shifted gears shortly after the start of the season and moved Zavaleta back to his more familiar offensive role. He'd only see 31 minutes in five appearances.
With his longterm role still unclear going into the 2014 season, the Sounders chose to loan Zavaleta to Chivas USA with the hope that he'd be given a chance to develop into a center back. Although Zavaleta played about 1,300 minutes almost exclusively at center back, he still didn't look ready to be a contributor for a team with designs on winning the league and it wasn't exactly surprising that the Sounders declined to pick up his option after he graduated from Generation adidas.
The move would also suggest the Sounders see Jimmy Ockford and potentially even Damion Lowe as being better center back prospects than Zavaleta. Ockford rejoins the Sounders after spending last season on loan with the New York Cosmos and Lowe enters his second season on a Generation adidas contract.
In Toronto FC, Zavaleta may have found a team a bit more desperate for a high-upside player. While Zavaleta could probably be useful as a hold up man on offense and has a decent touch in front of goal, TFC is probably hoping he can develop into a center back. Zavaleta has good feet and strong passing, at least by a defender's standards, and his big body should be able to hold up to the physical side of the game. He's also just 22, suggesting he's still got some growth left in his game.