What to do with the No. 15 overall pick?
That question confronts Sounders FC this week, as club brass looks to hit on a good one during the 2016 MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore on Thursday. Last year, the Sounders plucked Washington midfielder Cristian Roldan with the No. 16 pick, and Roldan quickly turned into a vital rotation option in the middle. So this neighborhood has been relatively good to Seattle – and other teams in the league - in the past. Now it’s a matter of finding the gem.
If the Sounders ultimately don’t trade this pick for something else (be it another spot or allocation), here are five speculative options on players who’d be smart picks. If any of these guys are still on the board when Seattle’s name is called at No. 15, each would present a unique opportunity. Here’s why.
Michael Gamble, Wake Forest
Much of the Wake Forest-centered talk in this draft has swiveled around Jack Harrison, the freshman Generation adidas midfielder who may end up taking a No. 1 overall spot most had pegged for defender Josh Yaro. That put Gamble on the back burner in the run-up to the draft, but you look past the senior midfielder at your peril. He’s one of the best in the draft pool at what he does.
Gamble is one of the few true attacking midfielders in this draft, in that he’s comfortable living in the spaces between the midfield and forward lines. He’s also spent plenty of time out wide, meaning the team that drafts him has options. The Sounders are set at the starting wide positions, but the loss of Marco Pappa indicates they could use depth behind Andreas Ivanschitz and Nelson Valdez. And the way the roster’s set up, even in Sigi Schmid’s 4-4-2 they can always do with a central attacking creator, and Gamble can fill that role as well.
James Moberg, Washington
If the draft happened on paper before the season, Moberg would’ve been a surefire top 10 pick. Moberg and Roldan formed the best central midfield duo during the 2014 college season, in large part because Moberg’s all-action approach allowed Roldan to create a bit higher.
But 2015 was not kind to Moberg after Roldan joined the Sounders. Moberg struggled with an injury for much of the season and was clearly not himself. That hurt his draft stock, and most now expect he’ll slide to the bottom half of the first round. Could Seattle reunite the old UW band by bringing Moberg back online with Roldan? It’d be a smart move. Moberg and Roldan already have a tremendously effective rapport together, and Seattle needs depth in the central midfield. Profiting off Moberg’s fall down the ladder could be quite fortuitous from the Sounders’ perspective.
Patrick Hodan, Notre Dame
Hodan is smack at No. 15 on the TopDrawerSoccer.com mock draft, which puts him directly in line with the Sounders’ first round pick should they opt to hold onto it. Hodan is that typically sturdy Notre Dame midfielder, good in all phases and drilled to be versatile. Irish head coach Bobby Clark has a reliable track record producing quality center mids, as the Chicago Fire now know with Harry Shipp.
Hodan can be a box-running central mid or a play-busting No. 6, and the latter probably suits him a bit better at the next level. Hodan has good feet, and while nobody will confuse him for Osvaldo Alonso when it comes to passing, he’s a capable reader of the game and fills a position of need. The Sounders need depth and quality up the spine with Gonzalo Pineda’s retirement and Micheal Azira’s departure, and at the very least Hodan can step in and start with S2 right away.
Keegan Rosenberry, Georgetown
This one’s a reach, since Seattle would most likely need to trade up to secure the former Hoya’s services. But since the draft tends to twist and turn in unforeseen ways it’s not unthinkable he’ll still be on the board at No. 15. Rosenberry is probably the best pure right back prospect in the draft, with a solid blend of defensive positioning and a willingness to get forward.
More importantly, Seattle is explicitly looking to get younger at the outside back position through this draft. The departure of Leo Gonzalez and the slow return to health for Román Torres puts a premium on outside backs of all stripes, and barring Brandon Vincent - who won’t last outside the top three - there isn’t a better fullback to be found. A natural heir to Tyrone Mears’ spot.
Ryan Herman, Washington
Seattle isn’t exactly hurting for goalkeepers, but Troy Perkins’ retirement this week maybe recast the way the team looks at this position through the draft. Stefan Frei blossomed into arguably the league’s top keeper in 2015, so this would be a pick for depth without question. But Sounders brass could well opt to go with a goalkeeper if a bevy of targets at other positions all come off the board first.
If Charlie Lyon or someone else already in the system are in line to be promoted to Frei’s backup, Herman could well be the pick to challenge to take over between the pipes for S2 this season. Herman is 6-foot-7, so that frames most analysis around his game. He has quicks for his size, but you’re essentially drafting him for his net coverage, not for his feline reflexes. That said, Herman moves more quickly than you might expect from most power forward-sized keepers, and he was a breakout star for the Huskies in 2015. Based off that form, it wouldn’t be an outlandish pick.