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Playing Youngsters Doesn't Harm Seattle Sounders' Performance

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The USL debut of Seattle Sounders FC 2 showcased strong performances from several young players on the first team roster. The USL side is a valuable tool for player development, but history suggests Seattle should not be afraid to test their youth in MLS play.

Never too young to make a difference.
Never too young to make a difference.
MikeRussellFOTO

SoundersKidsAlright

On Saturday, Seattle Sounders FC 2 recorded an impressive 4-2 win over Sacramento Republic. Victor Mansaray, Cristian Roldan, and Damion Lowe each contributed to the second-half goal deluge on either the scoring or service end. Aaron Kovar, Dylan Remick, and Oniel Fisher showed promise in their play. Lowe and Jimmy Ockford managed to efficiently clear most threats from the MLS-experienced Sacramento striker pairing of Justin Braun and David Estrada. Goalkeeper Charlie Lyon could do little against Sacramento's 2 set-piece goals and exhibited a strong leg in distribution for S2's surprisingly direct game plan.

No matter how strong the performance, some will question its context. USL is not MLS, and s2 will not clearly show the loanees from the first team to be "ready" for the big show. Players 25 and younger face a difficult path to first team playing time with Seattle. 11 players in this age group are currently on Seattle's 1st team roster. The Sounders' haven't found MLS minutes for that many 25-and-under youngsters since 2010. Judging readiness depends not only on lower-level performance, but also on accurate measure of the risk involved with rotating younger players into the first team. What is the competitive cost involved in testing players untried at the MLS level?

In the past 5 MLS seasons, Seattle has found 204 starts for players aged 25 and younger who joined the squad after its expansion season in 2009. The figure above depicts the Sounders' performance (in points per game) in those starts within a season subtracted by the team's performance in all other games. Many datapoints fall below the break-even 0 line. Many datapoints lie above. The team has often received strong results not only from talented regulars (e.g. DeAndre Yedlin) but also members of the deep bench forced into active duty by injury or other circumstance (e.g. Servando Carrasco, Lamar Neagle).

Player Age Year Games HomeG ppg TxPpg
Yedlin 20 2013 30 16 1.533 1.500
Yedlin 21 2014 25 13 1.920 1.778
Friberg 25 2011 23 12 1.565 2.455
Carrasco 25 2013 13 6 1.769 1.381
Fucito 25 2011 13 8 2.000 1.762
Caskey 24 2012 12 6 2.000 1.455
Estrada 24 2012 12 8 1.917 1.500
Rose 22 2012 11 4 1.273 1.826
Neagle 24 2011 9 5 2.222 1.720
Rose 23 2013 9 7 1.556 1.520
Remick 23 2014 8 6 1.500 2.000
Carrasco 23 2011 7 3 2.000 1.815
Other 32 14 1.344

"TxPpg" is Seattle's performance in the season's games in which the player did not start. In total, these young players have recorded 1.681 points per game in 204 starts (with the important caveat that many games played overlap - these games represent 12.3% of the outfield starting roles over the 5 year period). Seattle's overall ppg over the last 5 seasons is 1.705. Undoubtedly, part of the lesson we should take from this is that individual players have only a modest impact on team results. However, when the opportunity arrives to aggressively develop a promising young player by testing them at a higher level of competition, history also reminds us not to overstate negligible competitive risk.