The Sounders FC roster started over a year ago with a Frenchman who was coming off of a USL-1 MVP season. Since Sebastien Le Toux’s signing, players from England, New Zealand, Gambia, Colombia, Jamaica, Sweden and Cuba. Their American players have tried the professional ranks in Germany, Spain, England and Austria.
But whether it’s the 39-year-old goalkeeper from Olympia or the 20-year-old midfielder from Gambia, they will all put on the Xbox 360 kit Thursday night in the inaugural game of the MLS club at Qwest Field.
It’s no accident that Seattle has such a diversified lineup. When Seattle was awarded an expansion team, owner/GM Adrian Hanauer pledged to scour the globe to find the best talent he could for the club. That meant bringing home an American soccer icon, coaxing one of the best players in the history of one of the top clubs in the world and procuring one of the top young South American talents.
However, there is much more to this team than Kasey Keller, Freddie Ljungberg and Fredy Montero.
Take Nate Jaqua, the 28-year-old forward from Portland with three caps for the US National Team and 32 career MLS goals. Or Brad Evans, the 23-year-old midfielder from Phoenix who just helped the Columbus Crew to the MLS Cup championship.
Or top SuperDraft pick Steve Zakuani, an attacking phenom born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and reared in the Arsenal youth system. All the way to most recent signees Zach Scott and Roger Levesque, who travailed in the USL First Divison for years before earning roster spots with the Sounders FC.
Each player has a specific, unique role on the team.
“This organization has done a great job in terms of trying to bring a team together in Year One,” head coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think for a first year team we have a pretty good core of foreign players. I think we’ve done a good job of picking up guys in the draft and in free agency and the expansion draft.”
One key to building from the beginning was the yearlong pseudo-tryout in the form of the 2008 USL season. Along with Le Toux, Scott and Levesque, backup goalkeeper Chris Eylander, defender Taylor Graham and Sanna Nyassi (the aforementioned Gambian) played under Sounders FC assistant coach Brian Schmetzer for the USL club last year.
They have provided a fine complement to the bread and butter of a Sigi Schmid led team, strength up the middle of the field.
Recently acquired centerbacks Tyrone Marshall and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado lead a strong core of central defense in front of Keller. That combination of the cagey MLS veteran in Marshall and the promising young Hurtado covers plenty of space in the back.
Evans and 2008 USL Rookie of the Year Osvaldo Alonso have become quite the midfield duo while Ljungberg recovers from off-season hip surgery. Add in veteran Peter Vagenas, who is on his way back from knee surgery, and Stephen King and the Sounders FC have both quality and depth at central midfield.
Then with Montero and Jaqua up front, Seattle has a goal-scoring tandem that could lead the league in scoring.
“You want to always build your team down the middle of the field and I think we’ve gotten a pretty good leg up on that,” Schmid said. “Now all we need is that innate understanding.”
That will come from increased time together on the field. Ljungberg just joined the club last week, but has already made his presence felt, both on the field and off.
“Obviously in training, he’s in and out of the group a little bit, so his exposure in training has been limited,” Schmid said. “I know three or four guys had conversations with Freddie after the game (against Colorado on Thursday) and that was really helpful. In all my years, I learned more as a player from other players on the team than I did from the coach. Players sharing that kind of information with each other is tremendous and that’s what good teammates do.”
Added Evans, “In the past few weeks we’ve gotten three huge characters for our team in Pete coming back, Tyrone and then Freddie coming in. You see the difference Freddie makes on the field. And with Montero it’s going to be a fun game to play – very attacking. And then you have Tyrone holding down the fort in the back with Kasey. I think it’ll be a good attacking style but also some good defensive play and solid throughout the midfield.”
The excitement of the players is palpable as March 19 approaches. As it likely is around the league. All any of those teams need is to make it happen on the field.
“Right now it is a dream for everyone. Everybody is a first place team right now,” Schmid said. “We just have to go out there and do the business.”
Check back tomorrow for the next section previewing the Sounders FC in their 2009 season.