It would appear Chris Henderson moved around a bit recently. Let the
stalking sleuthing begin! exSlacker was the first from SaH to place Chris' tweets under the microscope in an excellent Fanpost. I highly recommend you check it out. exSlacker hypothesizes that Chris attended an Emelec match somewhat recently. Since the Fanpost's publication, a more revealing tweet adds confirmation to exSlacker's hypothesis.
Chris tweeted a photo he took of Ecuadoran ex-footballer Marcelo 'Pepo' Morales. Throughout Pepo's illustrious 17-year professional career, he played two seasons with Emelec during which the club won two national championships. After his stint with Emelec he joined Emelec's rival Barcelona FC where he won two more national championships. All of this to say, Marcelo is kind of a big deal in Ecuador, and you'd pose with him too if you could. Below, Pepo is posing with an CS Emelec fan in front of a mural depicting what I can only imagine is an historied scene in club lore between the home side and their bitter rivals Barcelona SC.
Great spending time with Marcelo 'Pepo' Morales, legendary player and first class guy. pic.twitter.com/4HErz2KVea— Chris Henderson (@19Hendy19) May 2, 2016
So, why now? Why would Chris Henderson want to publicly announce to the Sounders social media hounds that he has recently attended a match featuring Ecuadoran clubs CS Emelec and SD Aucas? A quick reminder for those who have been following the scouting saga of 2016: on April 10th, Sounders scout Kurt Schmid revealed to the twitters that he attended a match in Ecuador involving the same two clubs that Chris scouted last weekend. This little nugget is actually quite significant. Only a handful of clubs have been scouted by both Kurt and Chris this window.
To offer more context, in a Seattle Times article about the Sounders' scouting process, Matt Pentz said "Ideally, he'll [Chris Henderson] see potential targets play multiple times, and another Sounders scout [Kurt Schmid] will follow up as a second opinion." It looks like Chris' latest trip to Quayaquil, Euador was to offer a second opinion on targets Kurt had already scouted.
With the May 11th MLS transfer deadline drawing near, there's a decent chance that a TAM level signing could be coming from a midfielder/winger that played in this match. Yes, I'm quite aware that Garth recently said "big names coming this summer." That statement doesn't negate the possibility of an under-the-radar TAM signing coming this week followed by a splashier DP signing later this summer.
Then there's the recent scuttlebutt with David Llanos being linked to the Sounders. I do not claim to be Professor Charles Xavier. I can't read Garth's mind, but I seem to recall Mr. Lagerway publicly identifying midfield creativity as this team's greatest position of need. The Sounders have Ivanschitz, Friberg, and Dempsey to fill creative midfield rolls for the time being, but Ivanschitz and Dempsey are attackers first and Friberg is a box-to-box midfielder. The three Sounders I just listed are not CAMs by any stretch of the imagination, but have been asked by Sigi to do CAM things in the interim.
Clearly there is a niche to be filled and it is puzzling to me that David Llanos has been linked to the club for one simple reason: he plays center forward. Dempsey (33), Valdez (32) and Gomez (34) represent fading center forwards. Morris (21), Anderson (20), and Mansaray (19) are the forwards of the future with the latter two still looking a bit green behind the ears. I would argue that Darwin looked best on the wing, and that Craven doesn't doesn't have the potential to be a starting caliber forward on an MLS playoff team. Perhaps Garth is looking two moves ahead. There is a significant age gap between Morris and Dempsey/Valdez. Llanos could be the next man up when the club moves on from Dempsey and Valdez while Oalex and Vic continue to develop. David's six assists in eight matches would suggest he can linkup with strike partners, but those assists are meaningless if he cannot receive the ball in dangerous positions. All the more reason to look for a creative midfielder.
There are a few reasons to doubt such a player will come from Emelec any time soon, unfortunately. Consider that CS Emelec are the defending league champs and are making a compelling case for a repeat title. Couple that fact with timing, and you've got yourself a serious transfer roadblock. Ecuador's domestic league ends on the third weekend of July. MLS' transfer deadline marks the halfway point in Ecuador's domestic league. It is hard to imagine CS Emelec would be willing to part ways with such an indispensable player during a title run against their most bitter rival (Barcelona and Emelec have locked horns at the top of the table). The figure (thanks, Transfermarkt) below paints Emelec out as a relatively seasoned big budget club with a solid mix of senior national team members and foreign players. I worry that acquiring a known commodity at this part of Emelec's season would result in the Sounders overpaying.
And then there is SD Aucas. This club has never before won the Ecuadorian championship, and this season doesn't look much different as they find themselves in eighth place out of twelve teams with a -2 goal differential after 11 matches--boy, it sure would suck to be that team! If the Sounders were to pursue an attacking midfielder from Aucas, odds are favorable that the two clubs could strike a deal before the MLS transfer deadline. If the Sounders truly want youth for good value, look no further than Aucas. The figure above indicates Aucas' roster holds six youth national team players! Deeming a club a "feeder" isn't a very nice thing to say, but one cannot deny that Aucas is the proverbial South American bargain bin if ever there was one. An Aucas signing would be vintage Lagerway. Consider that in 2013 Garth traded TFC a second-round pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft in exchange for Joao Plata. TFC ended up with Edwin Rivas, who played a year with TFC II and whose contract was not renewed this year. I don't need to tell you what Joao Plata has gone on to do, but I should mention the tiny terror is from Guayaquil, Ecuador. Just saying...
Here are a few possible targets:
Fernando Gaibor, 24, CAM, €1.2 million (CS Emelec)
ExSlacker and I agree that Fernando Gaibor jumps off the roster as the most likely scouting target. Fernando wears the number ten and plays center midfield in the club's 4-4-2 formation. Gaibor has been in the Emelec youth system for six years, having scored 24 goals in 166 appearances. A few of those goals were scored this season through nine matches. Unfortunately, there are no recent highlights of Gaibor, so this short video from 2014 will have to suffice. Aside from the fact that he's an indispensable cog for a club in the thick of a title run, there's another wrinkle: "something" compelled Emelec to extend the young midfielder's contract through 2019-- the deal was announced on social media three days prior to the Emelec/Aucas match. To steal Gaibor away in the middle of Ecuador's season, the Sounders would probably have to overpay, potentially entering DP territory. If this guy signs later this summer, ECS should probably create a song to the tune of Electric Six's Gay Bar.
Joao Rojas, 18, CAM, €600 thousand (SD Aucas)
This youngster has caught the eye of Ecuador's senior national team coach. No minutes yet, just a couple selections. I would be wary of signing a kid this young, especially if he is expected to make an impact in the short term. However, at the right price, this kid would be fun to see coming off the bench every now and again, and hopefully growing into a bigger role in the long term like the other Joao from Ecuador. His highlights showcase a cultured right foot--not so much a cannon, just really nice touch. Joao started the reel off by chipping the keeper, curling a free kick into the box on a set piece, beating the keeper in a 50/50, and then scoring from an extreme angle. The most impressive bit for me came at 2:47 when Joao stormed down the left flank on a counter attack. He didn't have a clear passing lane to his teammate, so instead of forcing a pass like many inexperienced attackers would do in that situation, Joao cut inside and held play up. In doing so, Joao attracted four defenders, freeing his teammate to make a run on goal. Joao--surrounded by four defenders--somehow played a perfectly weighted pass into his onrushing teammate who finished the play off nicely. Rojas exhibited maturity, creativity, and poise under pressure in this play. Through eleven matches, the midfielder has scored once and assisted on four goals. I like the cut of this kid's jib.
Ayrton Preciado, 21, Wing, €600 thousand (SD Aucas)
Through 9 matches, Ayrton has accumulated three goals, two assists, and two red cards.Chris actually attended Preciado's most recent red card game which has since earned him a two-game suspension for his violent conduct in the 79th minute. I can't begrudge a player who plays on the edge (see Dempsey, Clint), but two ejections through 9 matches is a giant red flag for scouts (see Mota, Sergio). I agree with exSlacker's evalutaion of Ayrton: an exciting unpolished playmaker. At 6:35, the young mid completed a penetrating diagonal pass from deep in his own end. That kind of pass requires vision, and reminds me of the kind of play you'd see from Friberg. Ayrton looks the best with the ball at his feet running at goal linking up with his mates. Shooting and long-pass finesse probably lags behind Fernando or even Joao for now, but those skills can be sharpened over time. Aggression, agility and creativity are harder to teach and this kid possesses those traits in spades.
Angel Mena, 28, Wing, €2.2 million (CS Emelec)
He would be an Angel signing... Yes, he is in his late 20's and a winger. Neither of which scream youth or creativity. But bear with me, reader. Last season Angel led his team in assists and has since carried that momentum forward having already tallied four goals and two assists through 8 games this season. Angel would be an excellent rotational winger to give the team a creative boost late in the season when legs begin to tire. What I like most about this guy is that he is an accomplished finisher and at this stage in his career he is making sound choices in the attacking third--evidenced by his late career goal/assist surge and recent national team callups a la Lee Nguyen. His highlight reel is so low-res its borderline unwatchable, but this recent Copa Libertadores goal is alllll kinds of quality. See what I did there? Don't count on Emelec letting their hottest player go right now, but there's a chance they sell high in July. Emelec strikes me as the type of club that gets the best years out of their Ecuadorans, and then sells them to the highest bidder.
Robert Burbano, 21, Wing/Central Mid, €800 thousand (CS Emelec)
Across all competitions this season (21 appearances) Burbano has contributed with three assists and even scored a goal in the Aucas match that Chris scouted. His goal looks to be equal parts poor defending and clinical, accurate finishing. The young winger got into a nasty auto accident last year and missed significant minutes, but he is back and is a regular member of Emelec's attacking unit. Sample size is way too small to get a good feel for his style or quality.