With training camp opening on Saturday, the buzz for Sounders FC soccer is starting to rise. Two players whose primary professional history is here in Seattle are off training with Jurgen Klinsmann and the USMNT. Clint Dempsey is back in the EPL with Fulham for a few weeks. With the absences of the starting central attacking midfielder (Dempsey), right back (DeAndre Yedlin) and outside mid (Brad Evans) several returning players or those wearing the Rave Green for the first time will get to train with the starting group.
If 2013 taught the fans, players and staff anything it is that depth is important.
There will be the World Cup in the summer, a hopeful deep run in the U.S. Open Cup and, of course, injuries. Training time now with the top end of the roster should help players who may not be part of an ideal starting group. With 33 different starting lineups last year that ideal is rare. The next several men on the roster can break or make a season.
Right Back – Yedlin burst onto the scene in 2013. He unseated Adam Johansson and earned a starting role. His backups were rarely needed. When they were it was Zach Scott that filled in for him. Evans would be an option, but he too is away training for Red, White & Blue greatness.
Scott could get time, as could Will Bates and David Estrada (both played right back in MLS Reserve League matches last season). Two new acquisitions could also see time there. Jalil Anibaba, acquired from Chicago last week, started many games on the right for the Fire. He may be more of a centerback though, alongside the newly acquired Chad Marshall and returner Djimi Traore. Draftee Jimmy Ockford is described as a Scott type by Head Coach Sigi Schmid so his role flexibility could get tested.
Right Mid – Brad Evans’ role is kind of hard to classify. He’s been used by Schmid just about everywhere. But his current home on the pitch looks like it will be at right mid. Seattle’s shift in outside mids this offseason is significant. Now, the third and fourth round of the SuperDraft are still to come, as is the Primary Transfer Window, but Seattle’s current wide mids without Evans include Alex Caskey (more a left-sided player), Travis Bowen and Homegrown Player Aaron Kovar (very left-sided).
Even the forfielders (forward/midfielders) on the roster have more experience on the left. Lamar Neagle and David Estrada both played more on the left than the right in their first team history. Bowen seems the most likely to gain from this, but new addition Chad Barrett can also fill in there. If Barrett’s future is as a midfielder with such a crowded forward group his first few weeks are the time to declare so.
Central Attacking Mid – Once Seattle signed Clint Dempsey – let’s just pause and remember that moment – the shape of the squad shifted. There were two forwards and a man in the hole playing as a distributor. While the diamond midfield was something Sounders FC used on occasion in the past it ended 2013 as the primary formation. Dempsey is Seattle’s No. 10. He’s a bit different than the classic image of that role, but that’s where he plays and what he does. He’s gone for training camp. Who can fill that gap?
This is the toughest question to answer. For small portions of the season Shalrie Joseph was used in that space. A couple of MLS Reserve League matches featured Estrada there. Caskey also played there in the past, during some Open Cup and reserve games.
Kovar’s played mainly out wide, but has some of the ball skills necessary to be a central distributor. Andy Rose could get time there, but it would not be to set the rest of the ideal starting group up for use in a diamond.
This role, if the early camp shape is anything like what Seattle plays in the season, is the hardest to fill. If Caseky plays in the middle it probably means that Kovar and Lamar Neagle get more time on the left.
In the end the absences of the three players mean that eight or so more players are going to see more time with the rest of the starting group. Those extra minutes and attention should come in useful in the dog days of summer.
Sounders FC training camp starts on January 25. The first preseason match is February 5 against the San Jose Earthquakes at Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Ariz.