Ever since Shalrie Joseph was first acquired, I've been one of his bigger defenders. It wasn't that I thought he'd be great, mind you, but I figured that if he could stay healthy that the price the Seattle Sounders paid to get him wasn't all that steep.
I think it's still far from a disaster, but his latest injury has caused Sigi Schmid to express some frustrations.
"The very blatant answer is that it hasn't gone the way that we hoped going into this year," Schmid told us after training on Tuesday. "With Shalrie we felt we could add a player who with his experience could really help us because of his ability to organize and be vocal on the field. His injuries have not allowed him to be on the field consistently. They've impacted his fitness level as well.
"When he was coming back, he was a little disappointed in his playing time. You saw the energy he put in against DC and the type of game he put in against Vancouver and that's the type of guy we thought we'd have for the majority of the time. But then another injury comes and sets that back again. Obviously we would have wanted him to stay injury free and maintaining better fitness would have allowed him to impact the game a lot better than he has so far."
While Schmid's frustrations may be different than the average fan who seems to think Joseph has been a complete bust even when he plays, I share his opinion. Other than the LA Galaxy game in which Joseph was an unmitigated disaster, he's been pretty good when he's played.
He's not as active defensively as he used to be -- something that seems to be tied to his lack of fitness -- but he's a good passer that has shown some vision for the unlocking pass that so many of want to see. His 83 percent completion rate is the fourth best mark on the team, with only Osvaldo Alonso (87 percent) and Steve Zakuani (84.5) being better among attacking players.
The back-to-back games against United and the Whitecaps were a great example of what Joseph can do. It was his hard work that helped create Obafemi Martins' second goal and he easily could have had a couple assists against the Whitecaps as he repeatedly put the likes of Eddie Johnson and Lamar Neagle through to goal.
I know the popular opinion is that Joseph is not a good attacking player anymore, but that has actually been his strength. If we could get the Joseph that showed up against Vancouver to play 1,500 minutes this year, I have no doubt the Sounders would be a very good team.
Unfortunately, those moments have come too few and too far in between. Joseph has managed to start just four games and has only played in seven of the Sounders' 17 matches. What's worse, halfway through the season and it's an open question whether or not Joseph can ever get healthy enough to consistently perform at a level the Sounders were hoping.
That leaves the Sounders in a tough spot. Although only part of Joseph's salary is being carried on their books, he does occupy a Designated Player spot that would obviously be very nice to free up.
But MLS roster rules make parting ways with Joseph a difficult proposition. His contract is guaranteed, so he definitely can't just be paid off and have the space put back onto the salary cap. I'm unclear as to what would happen if he suddenly decided to retire, but I'm skeptical that would work either.
In order to get back his salary cap space, the Sounders would probably have to work out a trade that would probably cost them more than it did Chivas USA. That's not impossible, but it doesn't seem very likely.
More realistically, the Sounders are probably going to have to make the most out of the situation. Joseph was scheduled to train on Wednesday, which was an off-day for everyone else. His desire to get better seems to be there. But time is running out quickly.
In the meantime, the Sounders have some decent options. Servando Carrasco and Brad Evans have both proven to be capable partners alongside Alonso, but neither possess the ability to thread balls through the midfield the way Joseph has at times. Evans has also proven to be more useful as an outside midfielder than in the middle. The Sounders can probably be a very good team with either of them getting the bulk of the starts, but there's a reason the Sounders saw fit to acquire Joseph in the first place.
That decision is starting to look more and more suspect each week. If things don't change this will almost certainly go down as one of the bigger miscalculations the Sounders have ever made. We can only hope it doesn't come to define the season the same way.