It sounds like Keisuke Honda is coming to Seattle, and, whether he joins before the season or in June after AC Milan’s season is done, the Japanese midfielder will be a big signing for the Sounders.
A vastly experienced player who’s won championships at both club and international level, Honda will bring a lot of potential and quality to the Sounders if he signs. But what exactly does he bring to the table?
Strengths: Honda is, first and foremost, a playmaker. He wants to get on the ball and find someone in the final third to move it on to. Be it a long ball over the top to help spring a counter attack, a pass slipped through two defenders in the box, or just a simple linking pass outside the box, Honda is always looking to get the ball to a more dangerous area if he can.
He’s also fairly lethal on free kicks, able to threaten the goal from many angles or drop the ball into a spot for his teammates to exploit. That’s an important element that the Sounders haven’t consistently had in the last few years, so seeing that kind of set piece quality return would be most welcome.
Weaknesses: Honda’s not the best defender around, lacking the work rate and sometimes even the technique to get the job done effectively when the other team is in possession. He can periodically be useful in that regard by cutting off passing lanes, but he’s never going to be someone you see flying around pressing players or blowing up attacks. The Sounders will, in fact, have to help him out quite a bit in defense, which, given some of their other defensively-disinclined players in the final third, will require a lot of planning ahead.
Honda’s also not exactly a consistent player, prone to runs of mediocre form and even spells where he may as well not be on the pitch. Fortunately the Sounders have the depth to compensate for it, but for a Designated Player and a salary likely over $1 million, you’d hope for and expect a more consistent player.
What he brings to the Sounders: Honda’s versatility and experience can be a boon to the Sounders, especially during the long spells of the MLS season when injuries and fatigue set in. He’s best working centrally, but he can help out on the wing, especially in situations where the Sounders don’t need pace as much in a given match. No matter the match, there will be a role that Honda can fill, and that will make life a lot easier for Brian Schmetzer.
Other thoughts: Especially when he’s in the lineup with Nicolas Lodeiro and Clint Dempsey, Honda will give the Sounders significant playmaking quality on the pitch, and from all over the final third. That would make the Sounders even more unpredictable and difficult to defend against, and if things go well, that could take them from just having one of the best attacks in MLS to being the undisputed kings of the final third in the league.
There is, however, the question of rust. A long stretch of poor form at AC Milan and not always fitting in well with the parade of managers he’s worked with over the last few years has left him seriously lacking playing time, leaving his ability to make a quick impact on the Sounders when he arrives in serious question.
He’s only started one match in Serie A since September and has spent under 100 minutes on the pitch, meaning that he’s going to require a long period of not just acclimating to a new team, league, and continent, but also simply getting back into the swing of playing regularly again. Though he has started in four World Cup Qualifiers in that span, this signing would certainly be a big gamble, and that’s a little bit scary with such a big acquisition. That’s why he would be taking a pay cut to come to Seattle. However, even at a reduced wage, Honda is still a VERY high risk for the Sounders — one that hopefully proves to be well worth taking.