One of the intriguing questions for Coach Brian Schmetzer this season will be how to utilize Jordan Morris; is he a forward or a winger? That decision may depend on the two biggest offseason pickups for Seattle so far: Will Bruin and Harry Shipp. Each of them has a unique skill set, and both are upgrades over players we had last season. They have been somewhat overshadowed by young players and draftees, but these two guys are legitimate MLS starting-caliber players, and they are by far the most ready players of anyone added in the offseason who has attended practice so far.
Will Bruin - age 27 - appearances 178 - goals 50 - assists 20
Bruin is a very mobile player who has the size and ability to be a hold-up forward, but tends to be more active than many that play that role. I have been impressed with Will's touch; he is much more than just a big bruiser. Although he can play with his back to goal, his movement makes him more of a through ball threat than someone who just plants himself in the middle and holds it to bring up the offense. His soft feet allow him to work off of the midfielders rather than just hold possession, and when his back is to goal he is more liable to lay it off with a quality touch square than attempt to turn and beat a center back 1v1. Bruin also likes to use his decent pace to get in behind, which can make him a slippery target to defend. To top all that off, he is very good in the air, able to use his body to create space for goal scoring headers.
In practice there were lots of movement and short touches that were exciting, but I haven't seen as much offensive independence as I expected. Being dependent on guys like Dempsey and Lodeiro to put you in good positions shouldn't be a problem on this team though, and when presented with a shot Bruin showed no hesitancy in putting the ball on frame with power. He does like to get passes high and to his body on the run, something that can be tricky. In that way he’s not your prototypical target forward, but more of a big body poacher who can occupy the defense while making direct runs and not always just posting up.
Exciting element: His mobility. He is much more able to move around and pull the center defenders with him than I expected. He is big, but can really move and connect with passing rather than be a simple target/holdup guy.
Big Question: Can Bruin's type of forward work for Seattle? We had success last year with a back-to-the-goal Valdez who would get service to alleviate pressure and then drop the ball and we also did well with through ball and diagonal speedy runs from Jordan Morris. Will Bruin is a bit of a hybrid of these; can that fit the Sounders attack?
Harry Shipp - age 25 - appearances 93 - goals 12 - assists 17
Shipp is a creative player who struggled last year to gel with a pure counter-attacking team in Montreal. Possessing great balance and a low center of gravity, Harry is comfortable in the middle among the traffic or cutting in from wide areas. There were some endurance and pure pace questions in the past, but Shipp is really quick, especially laterally, as his win in the Sounders shuttle competition showed. This makes him a very crafty player who follows up the control and balance with great vision and a natural attacking mindset.
Shipp is a player who looks better the better the players around him are. He immediately became a favorite of Dempsey when they were on the same team at practice, and it was beautiful to watch these two cerebral players work off each other. When asked to be a midfield cog in a packed keep-away game, Shipp shone with 1- and 2-touch passing, quick decision making, and outstanding control in very tight space. Harry is confident with both feet, and has finishing power with either as well. His work ethic is another element that stood out, as he stayed after practice multiple times to work with staff.
Exciting Element: Cerebral play combined with quicker feet than expected, Shipp adds another technical player who can be an offensive force and should fit in seamlessly with other creative teammates.
Big Question: If asked to play wide, can he bring enough defensive presence to help the team in what has become a 2-way winger spot? Can he then differentiate himself from the other wing options?
Both of these players are extremely smart pickups for the Sounders. Each of them are showing starting abilities, but may both be subs by mid season. If so, they will be part of one of the strongest benches we have ever had. At the very least, these guys increase the variability of the lineups that Coach Schmetz can use, while offering great options if anyone has to miss games. Their age and playing styles are great fits for this roster. I currently think that Shipp has looked better than Bruin in practice, although the pre-season games will be telling. Based entirely on what I saw at practice last week, I would start Shipp as a left mid and then utilize Bruin as a sub for any of the attacking positions (moving Morris back if needed).