There still haven’t been any firm reports as to the timeline for Will Bruin’s return, but all indications that even in a best-case scenario he’ll be out for the rest of the 2019 season. Assuming Raúl Ruidíaz can stay healthy, that shouldn’t be some sort of death blow for the Seattle Sounders’ prospects.
Bruin’s absence does make the Sounders’ bench significantly shorter, though. Even when Bruin wasn’t starting, he was a regular fixture in matches. Five of his nine appearances this year and 10 of his 29 appearances a year ago came in matches he didn’t start. He was also Brian Schmetzer’s preferred option whenever Ruidíaz was unavailable.
The obvious next choice would be Jordan Morris, like Ruidíaz he’s likely going to be away for at least the June 29 match and potentially longer than that. Even when he is available, starting Morris at forward has a trickle-down effect on the roster. Add it all together, and it seems likely that the Sounders will may feel compelled to add another forward.
Here are some options:
The Homegrown gamble
The simplest thing the Sounders could do from a roster-management perspective would be to elevate recently signed Homegrown Player Alphonso Ocampo-Chavez into a more prominent role, as it requires zero roster maneuvering. That doesn’t make it a holistically simple solution, however. Since signing his first-team contract on May 1, the 17-year-old has not made an appearance, although he was on the bench for the Montreal Impact match. Even with the Tacoma Defiance, he’s only made six appearances this year. That’s mostly due to him playing in high-level tournaments with the Sounders Academy or being called into various youth national teams, but none of it points to him being entirely ready to start a MLS game. Ocampo-Chavez is one of the organization’s brightest prospects, but this would be a significant leap even for him.
The organizational answer
Justin Dhillon may not have the ceiling of Ocampo-Chavez, but if the Sounders want someone who can be a virtual analog to Bruin they don’t need to look any further than Tacoma. Dhillon has been on a tear over the past couple months, scoring in six of his past seven games and emerging as the Defiance’s top offensive threat. The former Galaxy prospect is a legitimate 6-foot-3, has decent feet, is a bit faster than he seems and has a nose for goal. He’s probably not a MLS star in the making, but he should be able to give the Sounders some decent minutes if needed. The Sounders could also sign Dhillon without too many roster maneuvers, as it would likely only require for them to place Bruin on the season-ending injury list which would open his roster spot but not free any salary cap space. Making Dhillon even more attractive is the fact that they could sign him and play him immediately, as domestics on the Defiance are not subject to the same transfer-window limitations as other players.
The long shot
We know the Sounders have the salary cap space to sign another Designated Player if they so choose. Chances are, Bruin’s injury doesn’t change the thinking on that front. But it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the Sounders don’t find their optimal third DP and instead choose to make two “lesser” signings. In that scenario, bringing on another forward would make a certain amount of sense. Assuming the Sounders don’t want to spend an international roster spot on this player, that limits the pool of solutions to current MLS players or Americans playing abroad. Two intriguing options are Andrew Wooten and Aron Johannsson. Wooten, 29, has spent his career in the German lower-divisions and is coming off a breakout season with SV Sandhausen of the 2. Bundesliga where he scored 17 goals in about 2,400 minutes last year. He’s also indicated that he wants to come to MLS, although it appears the Philadelphia Union are his most likely destination. Johannsson is probably a name you recognize, but who’s been out of the limelight ever since making the 2014 USA World Cup squad. Johannsson has spent most of the past five years battling injury and fighting for playing time, but he’s still just 28, has some upside and is probably ready for a move to MLS.