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2018 S2 player review: Direct signees

These players were directly signed to S2, but many of them had a difficult 2018.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

S2 had a whopping 41 different players take the pitch this season, so we’ll be breaking these evaluations up into easily identifiable groups.

Those groups are: Players on MLS contracts playing down, direct S2 signings, adult S2 players eligible for Homegrown Player deals, teen S2 players eligible for Homegrown Player deals, and Sounders Academy members with at least five appearances.

We continue our S2-review with players who were directly under S2 contracts, but are not eligible for Homegrown Player deals since they did not spend time as part of the Sounders Academy. Of all the groups that we’ll examine, these players will have the toughest shot of earning a first-team contract, since many of them would take up an international slot on the roster, are already adults and would take up cap space without a homegrown deal.

David Estrada – F

Stats: 33 matches played, 11 goals, 2 assists, 32 shots

David Estrada was announced as a player/coach signing that was intended to help provide guidance and on-field leadership for a team that, even with Estrada pulling up the average, often fielded the youngest lineup in the league. What they got in addition to that was a 30-year-old striker that was the club’s only player to hit double-digit scoring and a fierce competitor who showed he can still get it done at the USL level.

The former MLS Sounder seemed happy with his joint role (he also coached in the Academy) and served as a great link between head coach John Hutchinson and the squad. He also provided competition in training to aspiring strikers. If you couldn’t outperform Estrada on the training ground, you weren’t going to see the starting XI. No wonder he started 16 of 34 games.

2019 outlook: At 30, Estrada does not seem like a player with MLS ambitions. A wise veteran and consummate professional, the forward looks like he will serve a similar role somewhere in USL, where he will prove leadership, guidance and stern competition for minutes to young players.

Denso Ulysse – RB

Stats: 28 matches started, 2 assists, 58 crosses, 78 interceptions, 35 duels won, 7 yellow cards

Honors: USL All-League second team, No. 7 on USL’s 20 Under 20

If at the start of the year, you had been told that Denso Ulysse would be S2’s best player in 2018, you might have been rightfully doubtful. The Haitian looked sturdy in his first season with the club in 2017, but not like a viable First-Team talent. That all changed after the second game of the season, when Swope Park Rangers’ Kharlton Belmar victimized Ulysse on the right flank to score two goals in a 4-1 unraveling on the road.

Ulysse flipped a switch and played like a man possessed, shuttling up and down the field and sending in dangerous crosses while still matching pacy wingers step for step in his defensive half. The league took notice; the 20-year-old was the youngest player by three years to make either all-league squad.

2019 outlook: The club announced Nov. 14 that it had signed Ulysse to a new S2 contract for 2019. With Kelvin Leerdam and Jordan McCrary currently under contract and filling out the depth chart with the first team, it seems like the organization will want to give Ulysse one more year of USL play to see if he’s ready for the show. Still, with a 2018 season like he’s had, it feels like Ulysse may have earned himself a spot at preseason camp for the First Team. Play well there, and it’s anyone’s guess what comes next for the youngster.

Ibrahim Usman – LB

Stats: 26 matches played, 36 interceptions, 47 clearances, 6 blocks

Usman seemed to have a pretty solid 2018 with S2. The defender’s pace gave him opportunities to get forward, but as he was usually playing underneath Nick Hinds on the left side, there was limited space for him in the attack.

Defensively, Usman was a steady contributor. His positioning, mostly good, occasionally got him into trouble in transition. The Nigerian’s lanky frame, however, was difficult to bully off the ball.

2019 outlook: Ultimately, Usman was an adult contracted player and regular fixture on a back line that conceded 71 goals (7th-highest in the USL). It would have taken an exceptional season to survive that in a contract option year and Usman was mostly only serviceable. With his contract option declined, Usman may either wind up with another USL club or possibly eye a return to Nigeria as he ponders his next career move.

Rodrigue Ele – CB

Stats: 23 matches played, 1 assist, 91 clearances, 47 interceptions, 125/201 duels won

Honors: No. 19 on USL’s 20 Under 20 list

The 20-year-old had a strong season with S2, good enough to make the USL’s 20 Under 20 list, but struggled with injuries (though he notably showed great resolve in finishing a match where he had broken his hand early in the first half) that limited his ability to contribute for long stretches of the season.

Still, Ele just didn’t quite seem solid enough for what the First Team was looking for in a centerback and did not sign the Cameroonian to a new contract when his current deal expired at the end of the season.

2019 outlook: Ele is a capable defender, but will have a tough time breaking an MLS squad at this stage of his career. Don’t be surprised if you see him catch on with another club in the USL Championship.

Jesse Daley – M

Stats: 22 games played, 2 goals, 3 assists, 8 yellow cards

Jesse Daley arrived early in the season from Lions FC in his native Australia. After some initial challenges in getting his paperwork cleared, Daley became a regular fixture in midfield for S2, combining good distribution with normally sturdy defensive play.

Daley’s only real issue was discipline. The midfielder wound up with a team-high eight cautions in 2018, enough to earn him two one-game suspensions for accumulation over the course of the season. Daley also committed a team-high 51 fouls, 19 more than second-place Rodrigue Ele.

2019 outlook: Daley will return to S2 in 2019. While the club seems confident in his ability to move the ball, Daley will need to learn when to exercise discretion on defense, lest he give away crucial free kicks for a team that has struggled to defend set pieces in the past.

Antonee Burke-Gilroy – M

Stats: 19 games played, 3 goals, 1 assist, 83.7 percent passing accuracy

The other Aussie arrival of 2018, Burke-Gilroy joined from the Newcastle Jets. A more offensive-minded midfielder than Daley, Burke-Gilroy combined well in games where he was moved into the attacking band and often ventured forward when deployed as a holding mid.

With solid dribbling abilities and a willingness to challenge for the ball, Burke-Gilroy may be one of S2’s more versatile players under contract heading into the 2019 season.

2019 outlook: Burke-Gilroy will be looking to have a breakout 2019 to catch the attention of the MLS Sounders. The Sounders’ midfield is a tough unit to break into for a young player, but if the Australian continues to develop, he might be in the picture for 2020.

Ray Saari – M

Stats: 12 games played, 2 goals, 2 assists

Saari had a rough 2018. Missing the first few games due to injury, he suffered a hamstring setback midway through the year and never fully recovered before being released on Sept. 13. While he was on the field, S2’s captain showed all the qualities that made him a fan favorite in Tacoma, helping the club keep possession and commanding the midfield as the No. 6.

Saari’s release was tough, but with his injury woes it sounds as though both he and the club wanted to move on from one another. We can only offer that Saari will always receive a warm welcome in Tacoma.

2019 outlook: Released before the end of the year, expect Saari to catch on with another USL club, possibly an independent side. When he’s healthy, Saari is a quality midfielder at the USL Championship level and there’s no question of his character, determination or professionalism.

Felix Chenkam – F

Stats: 11 games played, 4 goals

Alas, poor Felix. Chenkam started 2018 full of promise, looking as though he was set to improve upon a five-goal 2017 that showed great promise. Instead, while Chenkam’s speed and strength often allowed him chances to go one-on-one with opposing keepers, too many chances went begging as Chenkam couldn’t find a way to finish his shots.

Called up to the first team May 25, during an injury crisis, Chenkam became the second coming of Andy Craven. Despite joining a thin roster, he never made a First-Team appearance, suffered a hamstring injury, was ultimately made irrelevant by the signing of Raul Ruidíaz and Will Bruin’s recovery, and officially had his season cut short when he underwent surgery for a herniated disk on Aug. 31.

2019 outlook: Out of his MLS contract, Garth Lagerwey has said he doesn’t expect Chenkam back with S2. Under his finishing problems, there’s a good striker somewhere in Felix Chenkam, but if he finds that player, he won’t be wearing Rave Green when he does it.

Francisco Narbon – M

Stats: 11 games played, 35 clearances

This portion of our S2 review is really ending on a down note. Narbon, who missed the first several matches of the year due to injury, had his season abruptly cut short July 5 when he had his right tibia and fibula broken by Swope Park Rangers’ Mattheus Silva (who was rightfully sent off for the challenge).

The Panamanian remained a central figure in the locker room, even on crutches, but one can’t help but look at the short body of work we got from Narbon in 2018 and wonder what might have been if he’d been able to keep contributing on the field.

2019 outlook: Out of contract at the end of the year, Narbon will not return to S2. With his departure, S2 has lost one of its most vibrant personalities. Now, the 23-year-old will head somewhere else looking to rebound after his season was cut short.

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