Another phase of preseason wraps up as the Seattle Sounders return to the shores of Puget Sound. They have the 2018-19 kit launch party Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at CenturyLink Field Pro Shop, but after that their focus turns to the CONCACAF Champions League and a final preseason friendly against Sacramento Republic on Feb. 15.
The roster seems inexplicably set. This may be because the operations security around their scouting team is stronger than ever, even as VP of Soccer and Sporting Director Chris Henderson posts photos of his world travels. It may be considered set, because Brian Schmetzer and Garth Lagerwey like what they’ve seen in preseason so far. Seven players scored two goals in the first five games. A full 14 have an assist or a goal.
Preseason performance by Sounders
A few trialists and draftees are clearly being tested. Jordan McCrary, Alex Roldan and Markus Fjortoft are among the team leaders in minutes played. That all three made trips to both Chula Vista and Tucson is a good indicator that the Sounders see a future for them within the organization. McCrary may have earned himself a roster spot, especially after the club dealt Oniel Fisher.
Three youngsters from within the system are getting extensive tests. Henry Wingo has the most minutes in that group, all as an attacking midfielder. Felix Chenkam and Handwalla Bwana both tallied 100 or more minutes. Bwana has been especially good.
Schmetzer also tested a 4-4-2 diamond in two halves of play, both with a mix of starters and rotational players. Matches featuring the deep bench, S2, and Academy players were set out in the more typical 4-2-3-1. The midfield diamond is a system that Cristian Roldan says will require more discipline from the team, not just because it is unfamiliar to them, but because of how it is structured and how many of the players like to get forward in their standard set. It is also a system that may perfectly suit a few of their talents — Shipp, Roldan, Morris, Lodeiro and Eikrem.
Osvaldo Alonso’s absence is a bit concerning. He has yet to play a minute in preseason.
We were given impression it was not believed to be serious.— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) February 8, 2018
What that’s meant is that Jordy Delem and Gustav Svensson are getting a lot of minutes in defensive midfield. Both are utility players capable of dropping into the backline. They have yet to do so in 2018. In the preseason game with a full livestream, Delem looked more than adequate. The defensive midfielder sat at the base of the diamond, a position that looked natural for him.
While we’ve only seen highlights of Eikrem and Dempsey, we love them together. Those two have an early vibe, and it will be quite interesting to see how they do against the talent in Sacramento and Santa Tecla.
Finally, it is becoming apparent that there are more than 11 starters on this squad. They return a natural XI, but with the additions of Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Waylon Francis, and the returning quality apparent in Jordan Morris, Will Bruin, Harry Shipp, and even Delem, this squad will enable Schmetzer to use rotation for non-injury reasons. That isn’t something he’s been afforded in his first season-and-a-half as Sounders FC’s MLS head coach.
Preseason isn’t over. There are still questions to answer: Who will be the third and fourth centerbacks; Francis vs. Nouhou at left back; how will rotation in the attacking band work out; what’s going on with Ozzie; will some of the S2/Academy/trialists earn contracts?
There are 13 more days until a competitive match. Most of those will be spent training at Starfire in the hopes of getting those remaining questions sorted.