When the conversation turns to soccer and the Seattle Sounders that he analyzes on TV or radio every week, Steve Zakuani is in his element. His future as an analyst is bright. The midfielder's speech has slowed down from his rapid-fire days as a rookie, but it is filled with knowledge, a willingness to critique the club and rightful praise when appropriate.
One thing he's noticed this year, we've all noticed, is the absence of Obafemi Martins. Sigi Schmid and the Seattle Sounders were hopeful that a group of players could replace the perennial MVP candidate. It has yet to come to fruition, and while the offense is capable of being good, Zakuani doesn't think they can be great as currently constructed.
They're good, they're OK, they can be good. To be among the best they need someone. This group won't be among the best in MLS, they just won't.
Those improvement have mostly come from learning how to utilize Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey better than they were in the early season.
Jordan Morris specifically is not a winger. I think anyone who has watched him, knows him, he's not a creative guy in the sense of going to be the guy to break down the team and play that final pass. He needs to be the guy at the end of the passes as he was for his first goal against Philly. That's one change. Dempsey coming in from the left- I was extremely vocal about that because can Clint Dempsey play left midfield? Yes. At this stage of his career is that his best position? No. On this team is that his best position? No. So him coming into middle has helped a tiny bit.
There's still some negatives with him there because defensively you lose a lot when Clint is playing in the midfield, and that's why Columbus was able to just pop the ball around Seattle, because their three midfielders were winning that battle. So there's still some things. Jordan Morris coming into the middle, the team getting more used to each other, and Clint being closer to the middle. The positives of that is he's more on the ball and gets to find people.
There's that more depth now with Herculez come in, Oalex come in. Sigi's been able to - there's not the same 2-3 guys going out every week - he can give different looks. That's helped as well, I still don't thinks it's fluid, I still don't think it's consistent enough, I still don't think it's among the most dangerous attacks in the league. None of that, but there's signs that it could be getting better.
To get from potentially good to provably great Steve wants to see new talent. He points out the teams with great attacks. They all have MVP caliber #10s and most have played together for a couple years.
You can get 2 or 3 guys to pick up his slack, hopefully, or you can bring in someone from Europe or from South America or wherever they go to get someone, sure. But that doesn't always go well, you never know, so it was a big loss in that sense. I think it can be a really good MLS attack now, I just feel that a couple of changes probably need to be made It would help to get a proven number 10, not a goal scorer, because Clint can either play the number 10 role or the striker. That's for me the two spots.
He's a better striker at this point in his career than a number 10, so if you push him up top and put a number 10 there, someone to feed Clint, I think that's the best format for these guys. That would help, that would make them a great attack. Right now it's good, but you look at some of the other attacks that are really clicking and 1. its either they've been together for a really long time so they're very cohesive in their movement or 2. they have a special number 10 which Columbus Crew have, Portland have, LA have Robbie Keane those teams have them- Kansas have Benny...
Until then the club will have to ride a defense that Steve thinks is not just great, but deep.
Ozzie's back to his best, without question, and I think we were all a little bit hard on Ozzie in a sense, because he wasn't at his best the last two years but as he's playing now it's reminding me of just how good he was, like big, big time player, such a big time player. He's back to his best; he's doing the things he used to do. Brad Evans is finally grown now that he's a centerback. Him spending years in midfield makes him probably the best on the ball centerback, but he's never going to panic- he's used to being on the ball the whole time. Playing next to Chad Marshall helps.
Joevin Jones, what a revelation he's been on the left. He had a couple little dips, but overall what a signing he's been. I don't know who in Chicago let him go, but that is the biggest pickup for me of the Sounders season so far. Tyrone Mears is as consistent as you can get, so that's solid. Stefan Frei is one of the best in the league, if not the best, and so that back 5 for me is fixed. It's solid and all that they're doing is cohesive and that's why they're strong. And with Alonso in front of them, it's tough to break that down. If they can get that attack then they'll get up the table.
Even without adding talent Zakuani thinks this is a playoff team. Not just because of the watered-down 12-team playoff structure, but because there are several of the best players in the league on the squad. It's a league that Steve has watched for nine years, from when his future was clearly in MLS through his time as a dynamic player to now as an analyst. He watches it challenge players he grew up idolizing like Steven Gerrard and he knows MLS is improving, but it's far from perfect. The expanded playoffs a particular issue.