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Sounders should pursue a temporary striker loan within MLS

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If Seattle can’t land a TAM forward in the coming days, it’s time to find a warm body with speed who needs MLS minutes.

MLS: Toronto FC at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll start by reiterating the obvious: Seattle Sounders are sorely missing depth, speed and youth at the forward position after the loss of Jordan Morris to injury. Four days before the close of the Primary Transfer Window, the Seattle Sounders effectively have three forwards on the roster. Clint Dempsey, who has always taken up a hybrid creator/striker role, will need to have minutes managed on his 35-year-old legs over the course of the long season. The starter is Will Bruin, whose strengths include fighting to meet crosses and clean up scraps in the box, as well as using his veteran wiles to find space to receive passes facing his own goal. He does his best to harass goalkeepers and annoy defenders, but he’s rarely going to beat them to a ball played into space. Finally, there’s Lamar Neagle, who is probably best viewed as more of an emergency option.

There are two tactical problems here. First is the simple lack of depth if one or both of Dempsey and Bruin can’t start. Sure, Bruin is a ‘tough kid,’ willing to play through dislocated elbows and more, but there’s no reason Brian Schmetzer’s options should be so limited. Second, the team is utterly predictable in their attack, especially while attacking midfield spark Victor Rodriguez continues his recovery from injury. Opposing defenses can move their line up and compress the midfield, knowing the biggest threat of being beaten for speed is Nouhou occasionally making a move from left back.

The front office, just like you, already knows all this, and they have been on the search to bolster the roster in this window. But if there is no surprise signing in the works before May 1, if the Sounders are out of options from their international scouting, it’s time to find a third forward in MLS. It’s possible the team would prefer to limp along until bringing in a major DP signing in the summer window, but not adding (at the least) an emergency depth player with a forward’s skillset and potential upside would be a mistake. Seattle can’t count on a late-season renaissance leading into the playoffs every year.

One option would be to borrow a young player from another squad who are interested in getting their youth some MLS minutes. It’s an unlikely scenario, but could be ideal for the Sounders. Let’s remind ourselves of some MLS rules around intraleague loans:

  • The loaned player must be 24 years old or younger
  • Each club may only send one player out on loan per season (The Sounders have already loaned Aaron Kovar to LAFC this season, so a loan swap with another club won’t work)
  • The player can’t compete against his former club while on loan
  • If the player is loaned in the Primary Transfer Window, he can return to his former club during the Secondary Transfer Window

Why it works

There are several quick and talented but unproven young strikers at the end of the rosters, and some clubs might see MLS minutes as more valuable than USL minutes for evaluating what those players have to offer. Now that the depth-testing CCL is over, would Toronto FC or New York Red Bulls entertain sending young Jordan Hamilton or Derrick Etienne (respectively) to Seattle for a few months?

LA Galaxy have the Zlatan and Ola Kamara, not to mention several talented mids who could fill in at forward in a pinch. The speedy LAG homegrown Ariel Lassiter could find some meaningful minutes under Sigi Schmid’s former assistant.

Although they lack burning pace, players like Atlanta United’s Brandon Vasquez and Portland TimbersJeremy Ebobisse aren’t seeing the field for teams with plenty of forward depth, and could also offer serviceable performance on a temporary basis.

Each of these players have high ceilings by MLS standards and valuable skillsets. None of their parent clubs would want to lose them, which is why the short-term loan between the first and second MLS trade windows is a viable option. Ideally, Seattle signs attacking depth in the summer, and the loaned player returns home for the late rounds of the US Open Cup and the end of the MLS season, but with more experience under his belt.

Why it doesn’t work

For the Sounders, any warm body that can stretch a defense and collect long balls (even if all they do with that ball is get it to someone more qualified), is an improvement on what they have now. But is that worth giving up any tradable assets? Potential loaning teams are going to want something for their trouble, although intraleague loans are relatively rare, so it’s hard to say what that might be. Seattle are going to want to hold on to all the Allocation funds they can in preparation for the summer trade window, and perhaps this would be a poor use of resources.

Of course, any player with value as depth for the Sounders is going to be valued by their own club. Giving up depth during the stretch of the season during which you can’t transfer in players is always risky, and in most cases teams will prefer playing the bottom of their roster at their USL affiliates to keep them close at hand.

Finally, would any of these forwards be a significant upgrade over Lamar Neagle, who is realistically the one who would be tapped to step into that lone forward role in a pinch? He is a known quantity with plenty of MLS experience, despite his limitations. If Bruin can stay healthy and the Sounders want to rely on Neagle and other players who are more comfortable playing wide (Henry Wingo, for example) as attacking options, the offense may tread water into midseason, but they’d be better off with another out-and-out forward on the roster.