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3XIs Depth Chart: Absence makes the heart grow fonder

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Sounders brass cut out the midweight during the offseason. It couldn’t be more obvious that they need to sign warm bodies.

MLS: Cup Conference Semifinals-FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

With a flat salary cap, assuming the CBA talks get worked out, the Seattle Sounders face a lot of challenges toward maintaining their dynastic history of performances heading into 2021. After the waves of cuts back in December the roster sits at just 19 players.

For the sake of this update to the Depth Chart, we’ll assume that the João Paulo is back. Everything about his transfer drama seems to be about the precise dollars spent, not if it will happen.

If you’re into good news, it’s that there are a ton of open spots. But don’t get too dreamy. There is not much hope of a major addition coming this winter. A team that is returning three Best XI players, every DP, another USMNT regular, the best left back in the league, the second coming of Nick Rimando, and two TAM CBs looks really strong at the top end of the depth chart.

And then it gets hollow.

A Seattle Sounders depth chart from early January 2021. Credit and story have length to Google Sheet version that is machine readable. Dave Clark - full chart at available as a Google Sheet

Outside of Will Bruin, Shane O’Neill, and Brad Smith there is no depth. For a squad with ambitions to be within every single trophy race, the Sounders will have to find bodies to provide that depth.

It is nearly certain that 2021’s regular season will feature a combination of schedule compression and covid-19 related rescheduling. Throw in overlapping major international tournaments (World Cup Qualifying, Gold Cup and other confederation tourneys, Olympics) and the need for depth is even more apparent, and yet it’s not there.

While the ability to float between multiple roles by the midfield buzzsaw of Nicolas Lodeiro, João Paulo, and Cristian Roldan mitigates some of the need for depth there is a canyon on the right side.

Assuming not major additions, two of the following players will be starters — and two of the others will be rotational talents. As a Tacoma Defiance fan (and broadcaster) that excites me. As someone who enjoys watching trophy celebrations it worries me.

  • Alex Roldan
  • Shandon Hopeau
  • Ethan Dobbeleare
  • Jordy Delem
  • Danny Leyva
  • Josh Atencio

Depth By Role

Diving a bit deeper, there is some fun flexibility to use 3-back and multi-forward sets. None of those moves removes the need for at least one more significant talent. But any squad with three starting caliber CBs, two LBs, and 3 forwards can do fun stuff.

You should expect the 2021 version of Brian Schmetzer to field players “out of position” because so many of them are multi-class talents who can do much more than play a single role.

We may even see a few players tested at new roles, especially at right back, since the org wants different skillsets from certain roles than what the 2010s thought a role should bring. Maybe players like Dobbeleare or Hopeau get tests as a fullback, for example.

Tacoma Defiance

Defiance lost some significant long-time players in the offseason. There are two major additions that will help shape the future of The Future.

With Timbers 2 taking a one-year hiatus and then shifting to whatever the MLS Reserve League becomes, Lagerwey/Brauner/Little/et al snagged Portland’s best non-MLS talent in Carlos Anguiano.

On the pitch he’ll help make up for the losses of Jesse Daley and Collin Fernandez, as well as the likely unavailability of Chris Hegardt (who was on an Academy contract last season and is probably playing in college this spring). Anguiano is a better ball-carrier and passer than all of three of those losses. His defense still needs refinement and will never be the force of nature that Daley was. But Carlos could wind up as an MLS talent, which is rare coming out of Portland’s Academy.

Unlike past seasons, Defiance will have a dedicated non-Academy keeper. Last year’s loanee Christian Herrera will help the org deal with schedule conflicts and the dissimilar bubbles between the two leagues. He’s a giant — tall and lanky. The former Oakland Roots keeper took that side to the finals of their league in 2020, after filling in with Tacoma.

There are even more depth issues for Defiance than for Sounders. Without the ability of MLS talents to bounce between the two leagues Chris Little and Tacoma will need a couple more guys just to fill out a matchday roster. Similar to Seattle, they need to discover a right back. Fresh signee Sota Kitahara, starting left back Alex Villaneuva, and AB Cissoko are the only returnees to start there, and all of them are better in other places than they are at right back.

There’s also a big problem with the depth for Tacoma, and it’s one that will plague college and the minors in every sport for years.

The Future Is Unknown

Seattle’s top level Academy was shut down in 2020. There’s no indication yet what will happen to it when the covid-19 pandemic is mostly addressed either.

On top of that, most colleges with former Sounders Academy products didn’t play in fall 2020.

That’s why The Future is a nearly blank slate in this January 2021 Depth Chart. It is impossible for the layperson and struggling ‘expert’ to know about players who haven’t taken a competitive field in over a year.

The handful of players remaining are USYNT talents and a small handful of older teens who were on matchday rosters with Tacoma in the last two seasons.

No matter how strong any developmental system is, the impact of the pandemic will stretch for years. Teenage prospects in every sport missed out on ~15% of their developmental time. Hopefully, they get to restart their progress towards playing professionally. Parents, coaches, and fans can help make that true — wear masks, stay distant, wash your hands, get vaccinated.