By now roster rules for American soccer leagues are recognized as rather complex. At its top level the sport here has rules that are more like principles than stone-set laws. USL PRO's rules are much more clean cut. How Seattle Sounders FC will apply them for Sounders 2 will be the primary indicator as to how this new team helps create better players and results for the big club.
While fan empowerment is clearly a large part of what Sounders 2's existence is about, the primary reason it exists is for player development.
The first thing that must be said about the roster make-up for S2 is that it will not be a place to "hide" players or sneak around MLS rules. MLS has to approve every contract it holds (it holds all player contracts), and is unlikely to do so just so a team can trick them. The second thing is that the guide for player movement between Sounders FC and Sounders 2 will be built after the CBA is signed.
What we can do is look at what the last set of published rules say about USL PRO team rosters. Looking at what Galaxy II did and Sigi Schmid's statement of intent yesterday you can see that the path is youth.
"The most important thing for us and for the team is we want the USL team to be a younger group of players," Schmid said. "We don't want a bunch of 28-, 29-, 30-year-old guys on the team just to win the USL championship. That's not what the objective of the team is. The objective of the team is to be a good team to compete and to have a chance to win the championship, but we want to do it with some younger players. The coach - when we pick the coach - his main thing is going to be "how many players can you produce for the first team,' not ‘How many titles can you hang up on the wall. Certainly we expect the coach to win more games than he loses because I think that's part of development is players learning how to win."
Probably the most intriguing way to get youth is by playing Academy players up. USL PRO allows that and the rules are structured so that those players do not lose their NCAA eligibility. Up to 5 players can sign to amateur contracts. Last year players like Victor Mansaray, Duncan McCormick, Henry Wingo and others played with the Sounders Reserves. They can either come up on a match-by-match basis or if they do quite well they can essentially make a permanent move playing with Sounders 2 around their high school schedule.
MLS teams were able, and almost certainly will be able to do so again, to loan players down to the USL PRO. Those loans can be ad hoc short 1-3 game situations, or they can last the full season. Those decisions will be made with thought as to what's better for the player, the First Team (always 1st) and Sounders 2.
Looking at the LA Galaxy II roster you find that they had four HGPs on long term loans down to the little club. Bradford Jamieson IV took that time and is contributing with the Galaxy proper right now. They also were the home for Jose Villareal when his loan to Cruz Azul ended. His younger brother (Jaime) played up from the Academy. Three other players with LA Galaxy connections were on the side as well. That's 10 players of the 26-man roster.
One of those was the player coach, but the other 9 were younger than the team's average age (23.4 years as of October 16th). The Galaxy had 12 players 23 or under and 17 that were U-24. If you drop Player-Coach Courtouis they average as a U-23 side.
Six of their players are internationals, which is one fewer than the maximum of seven players that USL PRO allows.
Sounders 2 sounds like it will follow that general path, though they may go even stronger with players connected to Sounders FC. While the team is already looking at players, the signing momentum will take off when S2 hires a head coach. But there are already thoughts among the scouting team about who to sign.
There are HGP eligible players from the Academy to seniors in college who aren't quite ready to play for the First Team. A few of the First Team players clearly need time to develop because 2014 has shown that they aren't ready for MLS time as well. Several players (Zavaleta, Ockford, Estrada, Ford, Okoli, Kovar) were loaned around American leagues and now they can practice right next to Sounders coaches instead.
Sounders 2 could also be a place to sign a young, raw international who projects as being year or two away from being MLS quality. Rather than hope that a team in a smaller soccer nation can develop them the team could sign them to a contract and help them along in the same training facility that Sounders FC used. How they move to the MLS team is still to be determined.
- Seven internationals
- Development first, winning second
- CBA and 2015 MLS roster rules will guide transfer process
- Don't expect sneaky moves from 2 to FC
More reading about how the team could use Sounders 2's roster
- Rough guidelines from Sporting Director Chris Henderson
- Sample Roster