Not everyone on the Seattle Sounders 2 roster is playing to make the MLS roster in 2018. Some may qualify as soon as this season, while the youngest that are eligible to play in USL are a few years from being professionals. One way to consider these players is to bucket them in similar ways to other job situations.
S2’s players can be broken into six categories, and each one has an ideal player to understand the situation.
These are the youngest of the Academy players playing up an age group, or two, or even three. Not only are they still in high school they aren’t even graduating this year. The most notable of these is Azriel Gonzalez. The U16 talent who spent a bit of time with the club during preseason is dipping his feet into training with the First Team, with S2 but gets most of his experience with the U18s.
With these youngest players there is a lot of care taken with regards to their confidence and the pressure they face. Academy Technical Director Marc Nicholls explained that to Locked on Sounders last week. A player in this category is a couple years away from being a pro, but they still get to experience studying under Alonso, Lodeiro and Roldan as Gonzalez did during training on Monday.
Exemplified by the early success of Sam Rogers these are the players that are seniors in high school or taking a gap year before college. They could be professionals as soon as the second half of the USL season, but at the same point they are not yet full pros. They don’t just need seasoning. An element or two is missing from their game.
If everything goes well, they learn under the pressure of playing up and get an offer. If it doesn’t work out they can still go to college. As Nicholls said in that interview, "Sam's somebody now who we have to think about seriously, because he continues to impress most weeks. We'll have to see what comes out."
What came out for Lorenzo Ramos was taking the step from Intern to Apprentice. Now, he’s a full professional.
Another full pro is David Olsen. Players like Olsen and Ramos aren’t yet ready for MLS, but they are ready to make their way in the pro environment. They are getting tested, and humbled, beyond what college can give them.
“Step two would be to work on all the aspects that I need to in order to become a better player at the next level. Before I came here I thought I was better than I was,” David said, “but playing out here you realize you need to get better as a player.”
Olsen just netted his first goal. He’s near the top of our Next to Sign Power Rankings every week. Without S2 he may have entered a soccer wasteland, instead he’s been given a chance.
Freelance to hire
Not every talented player leaves college and is drafted. While Undrafted Free Agents (UDFAs) are the bread and butter of the Seahawks in MLS they are rare. Ray Saari is hoping to change that. He was passed over by all 22 teams. RSL passed three times. Montreal passed twice. D.C. and LA passed once. Not only did they not draft him, they drafted no one in the fourth round (or the third in two cases). Saari looks every bit the USL quality midfielder.
A regular attendee of First Team training, Saari only need look to Zach Mathers for what can happen. The “just out of college” guys only get a year to show that they can succeed in MLS - a few have, a few have not. It’s a bit of a numbers game and a bit of good fortune, but those that show they can develop with a single year in “finishing school” get to sign.
Several U20 players from CONCACAF and CAF are on the team this year. They are young, scrappy and hungry. If things break right they adapt to the cultural challenges presented by not knowing the native language and leaving home. Kurt Schmid (S2 GM) said the club works to help those players adapt to Seattle is as important as how their games develop.
Felix Chenkham is among this group. The forward is competing with several internal options to show that he has what it takes to move onto MLS. It’s a challenge as the club has two locals working for that same playing time - Olsen and Seyi Adekoya.
Adekoya is in the final group. These men are on First Team contracts. They’ve earned the MLS contract. A few are Homegrown Players, others are making the minimum. They rarely make the MLS 18, but still need minutes. S2 is their opportunity to say “Maybe practices aren’t showing my best side. THIS is my best side.” They need games.
It can be a slog. The Roldans, with his single USL game, are rare. Instead this is about hard work. This is what Dom Dwyer did with Sporting’s loan to Orlando when they were USL. This is what Aaron Kovar did on his way to earning starts in 2016.
It took a few years, but S2 is starting to show what was once only a promise. There are nearly two dozen locals filling out the team’s 34 eligible players - they are Academy kids, direct to USL signings, HGPs and First Teamers playing down. There are also U20 national team players supplementing them.
Finally promises are becoming actions. It took a few years, but the vertical integration from U12 all the way to MLS is there in practice, not just speech.