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The Short List: Following the Digital Breadcrumbs (Edición de Sudamérica, Parte II)

At long last, Garth Lagerway has returned to Seattle. Where has he been? Who has he been in discussions with? It's all a wonderfully guarded black box for the time being -- but time will tell. For now, at Sounder at Heart we press on, doing what we do best -- we speculate wildly based on the breadcrumbs laid before us.

Pedro Vilela/Getty Images

Among the European Designated Player candidates previously discussed, no single player stood above the rest. From a fairly meaty sample size of 500+ responses, the distribution was fairly spread among several midfielders: Marco Fabian (20%), Alejandro Bedoya (14%), Pablo Sarabia (12%), Manu Trigerueros (11%), and Jonathan Dos Santos (9%). It is worth noting that the second most popular response was Bring on the South Americans (16%). My interpretation is that there is no consensus candidate, rather a handful of players roughly on the same level that can be considered somewhat desirable.

In the most recent edition of The Short List where we discussed South American players, two candidates garnered nearly 60% of the responses: Jeisson Vargas (30%) and Hector Villalba (28%). After Jeisson and Hector, the distribution fell off to the single digits. As expected, Vargas captured a large chunk of the distribution. Hector Villalba on the other hand was a complete surprise to me. Like Vargas, Villalba's highlights show impressive wing play. These highlights should be taken with heaping grains of salt.

Villalbas's performance data for this season to date (transfermarkt) paints the picture of a player who has fallen out of favor. Across all competitions for San Lorenzo so far (more than 1/2 season), Villalba has appeared only thrice for a total of 105' without any goals or assists to show for his efforts. Compare these lackluster stats to last season where he bagged 9 goals and 4 assists across all competitions (47 appearances). Transfermarkt does not note that Villalba has been injured, simply that he has has not made the squad most weekends.

What actually surprised me most about the last poll results was that neither Vargas nor Villalba is the creative force that the team so badly needs. Based on their highlights and the roles they play for their clubs, neither player would be brought in with the expectation to create scoring chances for their teammates. Both show an ability to create chances for themselves and finish chances that were created for them by more creative midfield players.

Before we proceed to the next short list, its important to remember that in the beautiful game there are no guarantees that talent is transferable from league to league. There are so many variables in play that contribute to players' success or failures on the pitch. When scouting talent, I would imagine it is impossible to account for it all. Caution should especially be heeded with young players as they sign their first big contract or leave their home country. There have been plenty of examples to cite where young players ventured abroad and things just didn't click into place.

The good news for Argentinian and Brazilian attackers is that MLS is widely considered to be a step down. This is a generalization, of course, as each domestic league around the world plays differently and presents its own set of challenges.

The Short List (parte II)

Below is the second and final installment of South American DP candidates:

11. Lincoln, 17, CAM, €750 Th , Gremio (contract length unknown) highlights
Rocket left foot, gets into dangerous positions, exudes crazy confidence to try things on the big stage even at 17 years old, sees the game well and likes to link up.

12. Gonzalo "Pity" Martinez, 22, CAM, €9, River Plate (2018) highlightsFIFA card
This kid is just hitting his stride. In his 6 appearances, he has already racked up 3 goals and an assist. River Plate paid big bucks (4 million euros) to sign him last season. The Sounders would have to splash some cash to steal him away.

13. Gabriel Jesus, 19, LW, €4, Palmeiras (2019) highlightsFIFA card
Another youngster. MLS defenders flat out aren’t equipped to handle the pace and creativity this guy exhibits on the wing. This would be a Castilloesque signing, only better. I’d have to make a Big Lebowski themed 2-pole on his first match if he signed.

14.  Victor "Ignacio" Malcorra, 28, LM, €3, Union (contract length unknown) highlightsFIFA card
Known as El rey de los tiros libres, meaning king of free kicks. Another left-footed maestro would allow Ivanschitz to rest once in a while without the dead ball service suffering too much. For big games, having all of Dempsey, Ivanschitz and Malcorra on the pitch at once would really pull defenses out of position, potentially setting up dangerous Morris runs into the box.

15. Marcelo Meli, 23, CM, €4, Boca Juniors (contract length unknown) highlightsFIFA card
Meli doesn’t have a super power that jumps off of the highlight reel like Malcorra or Jesus. For being valued at four million euros, Meli is pretty unremarkable. He out of favor at Boca Juniors since Nicolas Lodeiro takes most starting duties at CAM, and now 18 year old Rodrigo Bentancur has passed Meli on the depth charts. Meli would be able to pull his own weight on defense, which is something most candidates can't say. He is fast and would be an elite dribbler in MLS, but he lacks vision and finishing.

16. Dudu, 24, LW, €4, Palmeiras (2018) highlightsFIFA card
Sooo, this guy doesn’t lack confidence. 45 seconds into his highlights, you’ll see him under all kinds of pressure somehow pulling off a perfectly weighted rabona to play on an onrushing teammate. He is very gifted at keeping possession and finding a way to create something out of nothing. Like Gabby Jesus, he is fast and clever, but isn't exactly going to selflessly spray passes all over the pitch. Can you imagine having all of Ivanschitz, Deuce and Dudu combining? Other fanbases would be laughing at our roster before the match, followed by tears after. Delicious tears.

17. Diego Valdes, 22, LW/CAM, €900 Th , Audax Italiano (2020) highlightsFIFA card
I’m basing my assessment off of his touches vs. USMNT. He gave the defense fits at times with his pace and pressure showing an excellent work rate. He looked like a direct player with the ball at his feet (nothing wrong with that). It’s possible that’s what he was being asked to do by his coach, or even that that match was his debut for Chile's national team. I like him, and think his value is on the rise. He is young and will likely be more involved with his national team going forward.

18. Juninho, 20, CAM/WF Palmeiras (value and contract unknown) highlightsFIFA card
Very well-rounded. On loan with Osasco Audax until June. He uses his pace to run at defenders and his touch and agility to get past them where he is can competently put a shot on frame or create for an open teammate. Excellent at attracting defenders and operating in tight spaces. At 20 years old, this kid has the composure and final touch of a veteran. Big endorsement for Juninho. Seattle (re)invented Juninho.

19. Óscar Romero, 23, CAM, €3.7, Racing (2018) highlightsFIFA card
Well-rounded. A rising star for Paraguay’s national team. "El Neymar Paraguayo" plays with a lot of flair, and has the tendency to embarrass defenders in 1v1 situations. He is fast, creative, and is equally adept at shooting and passing. His highlights show a lot of penalty kicks, too. After our last playoff game against Dallas, Garth shouldn’t shy away from bringing in players that are comfortable at the penalty spot.

20. Sebastián Blanco, 28, CAM, €4.2, San Lorenzo (2018) highlights, FIFA card
Well-rounded attacking midfielder. Aside from defending, which he doesn't do, Blanco is a savvy CAM who at this stage in his career understands positioning and making chances for his teammates. He has lost a step, but is still reasonably fast. On top of his pace, he is a very solid shooter, passer, and dribbler. He has played in Ukraine and UK before as well as his home Argentina. This would be a classic MLS signing.

Honorable mentions:
- Guilherme Camacho, 26, CM Osasco Audax
Well-rounded midfielder. Perennial free agent in Argentina's Primera Division. Comacho isn’t the offensive juggernaut that others on the list are, but he is well-rounded. Built like a marathon runner, he can thwart an attack and jumpstart one in seconds. Camacho isn’t a stellar passer, but probably would be competitive with Friberg for starting minutes. Definitely a tier above Roldan.

Kelvin, 22, RW, €2.5, Sao Paulo (Dec. 2016) highlights, FIFA card

Fancy footwork. This is a winger who just looks electric on the ball. So flinchy, poised to change directions at a moment's notice. Defenders need to be on their toes with him. Aside from dribbling and agility, Kelvin doesn't have super-passing or super-shooting ability once he beats defenders. Based on the small sample size of his his aggression and agility, I would imagine he draws fouls in and around the box.

Miler Bolanos, 25, CAM, €3.5, Gremio (2018) highlightsFIFA card
Had to mention him. He has played all over the field. For Gremio, his current club, he plays center forward. For past clubs, like Chivas USA (you read that right) he switched between CAM and wing. He wasn't playing with Chivas long enough to leave his mark with the club,
but long enough to sneak one past Gspurning in 2012.

My pick would probably be any of Juninho, Gabriel Jesus, Lincoln, or Oscar Romero. I could see Oscar Romero having the biggest immediate impact in the short term. He looks most like the missing ingredient to make everyone around him better. The Paraguay connection he'd have with Valdez and his PK-taking abilities are icing on the cake. Juninho, Gabriel Jesus and Lincoln would all be exciting youth DP signings, too. Garth, if you're reading this, I sincerely hope you sign one of the thirty-something candidates that have been highlighted in the digital breadcrumb series. On second thought, better make that two players. Thanks, big guy.

What about you, reader? Who do you fancy?

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