The Seattle Sounders may not be in an official “youth movement,” but the increased role of the young players is hard to miss.
Granted, if Coach Brian Schmetzer had his preference, he’d probably be bringing along his prospects a bit more slowly. But as injuries and illnesses continue to chip at the depth he and Sounders Sporting Director Craig Waibel had so proudly accumulated in the offseason, the kids have been thrust into the spotlight.
Against the Houston Dynamo, the latest prospects to step up were Cody Baker and Paul Rothrock, the latter of whom may not qualify as a “kid” per se, but has the MLS résumé of one, having left the Sounders Academy and gone to college before trying to land with Toronto FC and signing with the Tacoma Defiance in the offseason.
But here Rothrock was, playing a starring role as he netted the game-winner for the Sounders in a match in which they were arguably second-best against a short-handed opponent. After the match, Schmetzer said he thought the team started well before the weather delay interrupted proceedings. And after the Dynamo went down to 10 men, he thought the Sounders had trouble creating chances against a bunkered opponent.
“Playing with a team that plays a man down and sits in front of their box is never easy,” Schmetzer said. “There was some frustration. They did a good job of trying to kill the game and their goalkeeper did what he could to slow the tempo down.”
The frustration of the performance was relieved by Rothrock, who has now scored in three consecutive appearances with the first team. The previous appearances were in US Open Cup action, so the goal against Houston certainly qualifies as the most important to date.
“Happy for that kid Rothrock coming in and saving us,” Schmetzer said. “His instructions were to provide us width and try to open the game up. The kid has good instincts and the ball went over to the right-hand side, he crashed the box and was in the right place at the right time.”
Rothrock said he’d been paying attention to the match from the bench, in case his number was called into action.
“Alex [Roldan] had been putting in a couple of good balls when I was watching from the bench,” Rothrock said. “I was thinking that if I do get in there, making sure I’m the guy to clean it up at the back post. I thought if I was in that position it might come through, I’d be ready for it.”
Rothrock was one of several young Sounders to see significant time in the match, and Schmetzer said he was pleased with how they performed.
“It’s unfortunate that Ethan [Dobbelaere] dinged up his ankle, because the first ball he touched, he got a really good pass and got past his defender, unfortunately the shot just went wide,” Schmeter said. “Reed [Baker-Whiting] has good upside, we talk about Cody Baker being solid, that was a solid shift by Cody.”
Baker, like Rothrock, is another Defiance player signed to a short-term first-team deal who has impressed with the Sounders, and Schmetzer said he’ll have to have some discussions about what’s next.
“He’s a tenacious one-v-one defender, he’s got good speed, good strength,” Schmetzer said. “Credit to the kid for coming in and these guys smell the opportunity ... to earn a first-team contract. That’s a conversation that Craig and I have to have.”
Both Baker and Rothrock’s short-term deals are almost up, so the Sounders will have to make a decision about whether they want to sign them to the first team. Rothrock said that decision is out of his hands, and he’ll continue to do what he can to help his chances.
“All I can do is continue to put in good performances,” Rothrock said. “[A first team contract] is not up to me, but all I can ask is for them to continue to give me opportunities.”
In the meantime, Rothrock said he’s enjoying being back home.
“If I could put one word on it, it would be ‘joyful,’” Rothrock said. “I feel great in my decision to come home. I had a couple of options in different countries in the offseason and I chose somewhere where I thought I would be valued and had a good culture. I feel like it’s starting to pay off.”