On Friday, May 12, Seattle Sounders FC 2 announced the signing of 17-year-old Academy prospect Marlon Vargas. Just one day later, Vargas, who spent two years in the system after signing from youth affiliate Central California Aztecs, made his professional debut with a home start against Portland Timbers 2.
Through 55 minutes of action, the dynamic, fluid attacker, operating as a playmaking No. 10, put in an impressive shift. He routinely drove the attack forward with incisive passes and plenty of creative flair.
“I think Marlon was really good first half,” said S2 Head Coach John Hutchinson after the match. “He got in great areas of the field. He’s a positive player. I think in a few more games, we’re going to see the best of Marlon.”
Not everything that Vargas attempted worked in his first professional match — a Cascadia derby, no less — but his ability to find and occupy dangerous spaces, coupled with his impressive technical ability, showcased exactly why the club rates him so highly.
The image above depicts all of Vargas’ passes, touches and dribbles from his S2 debut. Notice how a vast majority of his touches came in the critical Zone 14, with his passes from that area either spraying wide to overlapping runners or finding the feet of Felix Chenkam near the top of the box.
Since S2’s roster is filled with dynamic and influential wide players such as Shandon Hopeau and Nick Hinds, having a No. 10 like Vargas who can find pockets of space in the final third and create chances is paramount to the team’s progressive, attacking brand of soccer.
Playing his first professional match in front of a boisterous crowd at Cheney Stadium, Vargas simply tried to soak up the experience and put in a strong performance.
“It was good,” said Vargas of his first professional match. “I’m happy to make my debut against a big rival of ours. I’ve never been in an environment like that. So I felt like it was a mini-CenturyLink [Field].”
Despite the high stakes of a derby match, the California native managed to show flashes of his potential, identifying an understanding of when to find gaps between the lines and when to run in behind.
The above clip indicates an intrinsic sense of when to hit teams in transition. Typically speaking, the role of the No. 10 is to find gaps between the midfield and defensive lines, receive passes on the half-turn and then create chances. But with T2’s defensive shape in shambles after a turnover, Vargas recognizes the acres of space behind the back four and makes a slashing run. Although he was unable to direct his shot on target, the willingness to stretch the opposing defense with a direct run demonstrates a high soccer IQ.
Conversely, the second clip is more indicative of a classic No. 10, as he plays with his head on a swivel and draws defensive midfielders out of position. Although his attempted dribble was snuffed out, he won the ball back and recycled possession, which led to a shot inside the box just a few passes later. T2’s defensive midfielders are so preoccupied with marking the influential 17-year-old that they don’t cut out the passing lanes through the channels, which is where Francisco Narbon threaded his through-ball in the very next pass.
In the above clip, notice how Vargas delays his run, allowing the T2 players to drop toward their own goal, which creates a massive pocket for his delayed run. When Ibrahim Usman’s first cut-back is blocked, the young attacker is patient enough to hang back and again allow the defenders to drop toward goal. Although his shot skews wide, the thought process, especially for a 17-year-old making his professional debut, is incredibly encouraging.
As the USL season continues, Vargas will get more opportunities to develop in an elite environment. If he can add some end-product to his dynamic inaugural performance, then the sky’s the limit for the Sounders Academy alum.