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Explaining the Sounders’ 2017 SuperDraft strategy

The Sounders’ picks were a little underwhelming, but there was method behind the seeming madness.

MLS: MLS SuperDraft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On the surface, the Seattle Sounders had a pretty underwhelming SuperDraft on Friday; they traded their first pick (16th) for allocation money, signed Stanford centerback Brian Nana-Sinkam with their 22nd pick, and young international midfielder/defender Dominic Oduro with pick 44. But what seemed at first to be a fairly pedestrian draft strategy takes on new meaning after hearing Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey explain the team’s reasoning behind their decisions.

Why did the Sounders pass on their first pick?

It seems that central defense was the main area that the team hoped to reinforce in the Draft. They had a handful of players that they liked at the position, and felt that even if they didn’t get their first choice, they would be happy enough with number two. So when the offer of $75,000 in General Allocation Money came in from NYCFC, the Sounders couldn’t say no. Lagerwey said that Syracuse’s Miles Robinson was the top defender on their draft board, but since he was taken as the second pick of the draft by Atlanta United, they turned to Nana-Sinkam, who wasn’t far behind Robinson. “When we were offered 75k for the 16th pick, we just had to take that deal as it would really help us potentially down the road,” Lagerwey said, “and hopefully our guy was still there on the board, and Brian (Nana-Sinkam) was.”

Lagerwey also said that the team had no interest in sacrificing allocation money or an international spot to trade up, and even their highest priority in the draft could wait until the 22nd pick. “We preferred to hold our money and use it on our existing players, and then try to gather more money to try and add players to our teams as opposed to investing it here at the Draft.” The team clearly values the extra allocation money quite a bit, which means they could be planning on making some more moves in the offseason.

The Sounders have lots of center backs, why spend their top pick on another?

The way Lagerwey explained it, the Sounders seem a little worried that they were too stacked with central defenders over the age of 30. Despite Chad Marshall, Roman Torres, and Brad Evans being some of the best defenders in all of MLS—they’re all on the wrong side of 30. Lagerwey admitted that even though center backs tend to last longer in the league, the team really wanted to reinforce that position for the future. “It’s all about the pipeline and to give us options not just now but down the road, and try to be strategic and bring the team along so we don’t get stuck having too many guys at one age in one position.” The team already has Tony Alfaro, and they seem to believe that Nana-Sinkam has the potential to be his long-term partner in central defense. Lagerwey also hinted that S2 is bringing in a talented 18-year-old central defender from West Africa that the organization rates very highly.

As for the main reasons why Nana-Sinkam was so high on the Sounders’ board, Lagerwey said that the team was very impressed by his interview at the Combine, as well as his aggressiveness on the pitch. “We like the mental makeup, his interview was very, very good. He’s got a decent frame. We thought he was very physical, in particular that stood out at the combine. He got into challenges, he wasn’t shy.” All of this showed the Sounders that Nana-Sinkam had the kind of mentality that they were looking for from a player they see as having a long-term role in central defense.

Where does Oduro fit into the Sounders’ plans?

Other than sharing a name with the Montreal Impact attacker, few knew much about the last pick of round 2. Even his position seemed to be under some debate. Our post about Oduro refers to him as both a right back and right midfielder, but that’s not where the team expects him to play. Lagerwey said that he sees Oduro as potential depth behind Osvaldo Alonso (and, presumably, Cristian Roldan) in central/defensive midfield. He said that Oduro will join S2’s Jordy Delem and Zach Mathers in training camp to compete for those midfield depth spots on the roster. It should be noted that Lagerwey sees Mathers as more of a number 8, box-to-box type player as well.

Why do the Sounders draft so many players from Stanford?

It’s true, the Sounders do have a wealth of ex-Stanford guys on the roster right now. In addition to today’s draftee Brian Nana-Sinkam, both Aaron Kovar and Jordan Morris joined Seattle directly out of Stanford in recent seasons, and Chad Marshall also happens to be a Cardinal alum. The team even has an Academy player headed to Palo Alto in the fall. As for the immediate reason why the team has picked up guys from Stanford, the results speak for themselves: The Cardinal are back-to-back NCAA Division 1 champions. But it’s not just that, Lagerwey explains, but also the entire Stanford experience that prepares students for life. “It’s a great school, and it prepares kids very well to be grown-ups, to be men and women, and it’s a really good environment on the field as much as off the field. We rate the Stanford experience really highly.” The team is obviously happy with guys like Kovar and Morris, the latter of which played with Nana-Sinkam and spoke very highly of him to the Sounders front office. This is partially why Nana-Sinkam was so high on the Sounders’ draft board, and Lagerwey said that “to draft a winner like that we thought was important, especially at a position of need.”

Will the Sounders make any more big offseason moves?

The final rounds of the SuperDraft are on Tuesday via conference call between the teams and league, so the team will get a handful of other young players—but they won’t be expected to start immediately. Lagerwey said that the front office is pleased with the team right now and that “I think if we had to start today we’d be okay,” but that more moves are not off the table right now. He said, “we’re still looking abroad in terms of further signings, but we’re pleased with the additions of Shipp and Bruin, feel like it gave us some cover in those spots.” The trade of their 16th pick for allocation money certainly suggests that the team wants to use that money on some new players—Lagerwey specifically said that they are looking at veteran players in midfield and “slightly more attacking roles.”

Are the Sounders planning on signing any more wide players?

Lagerwey said that it’s a position they are certainly looking at right now, but he has faith in the players they have right now that can play out wide. He specifically mentioned Kovar, Shipp, Flaco Fernandez, Henry Wingo, and Nicolas Lodeiro as players that are either naturally wide players or have the ability to fill in those positions when needed. “We have a lot of choices for those wide midfield roles, what we call the ‘band of three.’ But we’ll see how it plays out in preseason.”

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