With SFC Preseason winding down, Seattle Sounders left with roster decisions, options for depth

Clint Dempsey dipped back into the midfield like a warm ice cream spoon cutting through a pint of Rocky Road. It was early in the second half of Seattle’s penultimate preseason matchup against Atlanta United FC on Wednesday, and Dempsey had come on to continue his fitness ramp-up for the season. And he was wheeling and dealing.

At one point, Dempsey cut back into the build to find possession - he still loves to drop deep to find the ball - and carved out a picture perfect 30-yard diagonal to his runner. The pass was visionary, opening up an entire third of the field and shifting the focus of attack. This was the same old Dempsey, like he never skipped a beat.

The moment was a positive takeaway for Sounders fans wondering about Dempsey’s sharpness with the season opener in Houston nearly a week away (March 4, 5:30 p.m. PT | Matchcenter). But it was also hardly instructive. Provided he’s healthy, Dempsey’s spot on the team isn’t in question. The same goes for names like Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan, Chad Marshall, Roman Torres and more. The Sounders may have questions, but most of them don’t revolve around the actual names in the starting XI. Most everyone is back from a team that won an MLS Cup just two months ago.

Indeed, the broader questions are about who fills out the roster behind them.

MLS rosters are comprised of 28 players, but only 18 make a gameday lineup. The Sounders had 30 rostered players for their latest preseason matchup (not counting a few trialists), so the cut down to 28 won’t be so painful. The more incisive question is who fills out the final few spots on Seattle’s first 18. And I have some ideas.

Here are five players who didn’t start last year who’ve impressed this preseason at positions of need. You could well see a few in 18-man rosters in the early going of the season. These guys may be closer to No. 18 on the pecking order than No. 1, but each could well get a crack at some minutes in 2017 provided the conditions are ripe.

D - Brian Nana-Sinkam

The Sounders entered the offseason with only three rostered center backs, and they ultimately used their only first rounder on the Stanford grad. Nana-Sinkam’s enjoyed a steady, largely uneventful preseason, which is a positive note for a center back. He’s rarely been caught in bad positions in space, and as the coaching staff expected, he’s added some tangible value to the flow of the attack going forward. A quick glimpse at the roster and you realize there are probably only three center backs ahead of Nana-Sinkam right now: Marshall, Torres and Tony Alfaro. Nana-Sinkam could easily be the fourth option, and as 2016 proved, you’ll probably need four center backs to get through an entire MLS season.

D - Jake Morris

Left backs are notoriously hard to find and even harder to groom once you have them. Joevin Jones’ consistency last year plugged that gap and gave the Sounders arguably a top five left wingback in the league, but depth was still hard to find. Luckily Jones stayed healthy, but they could use some roster depth at the position as well. Morris has provided some sparks on the left this preseason, and while he has a tendency to get caught outside his walls too far upfield, he’s a positive distributor and a good one-on-one defender. What’s more, he could give Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer the option to move Jones up to the left midfield and slot Morris in at left back for some killer overlaps. Whether or not Morris is ready for that, he’s certainly raised a few eyebrows.

M - Zach Mathers

Most Sounders fans got their first look at Mathers last summer when he played in the middle against Club America in a friendly at CenturyLink Field. Mathers actually struck a free kick in that game that forced a save and eventually led to a Jordan Morris rebound goal. Mathers looks even better than he did then, and the defensive midfielder still has one heck of a wicked eye for free kicks. Largely playing as one of the two sitting central midfielders in the 4-2-3-1, Mathers has largely been an assured presence in the middle providing some steel and distributive ability from the back. And he has a more accurate free kick foot than any other central midfielder in the pool, which makes him unique. And in terms of roster spots for the ever-important defensive midfielder spots in the rotation, there are perhaps only three currently ahead of him in Gustav Svensson, Roldan and Osvaldo Alonso.

M - Henry Wingo

If any come-out-of-nowhere player has impressed this preseason, it’s been Wingo. He added to his growing preseason legend by scoring against Atlanta United on Wednesday off an assist from Will Bruin. Wingo, who this time last year was gearing up for another season at the University of Washington, has been asked to fill a couple different roles this preseason, and he’s performed each admirably. Perhaps his most dangerous deployment - and where he was on Wednesday when he scored - is as the right peg in the three-across high midfield line. Wingo’s combination of speed and vision are rare, and importantly he’s comfortable hugging the touchline when needed. The Sounders desperately need width as the season starts, and even a quick glimpse on the depth chart reveals few players ahead of him in that regard.

F - David Olsen

This is a speculative one, which is why I have him last, but Olsen’s performances of late deserve a nod. Olsen is, of course, still a trialist and is officially still a Seattle University player. But of all the guest players the Sounders have brought along this preseason, Olsen’s performance has been the singular best, and there’s a bonus at the end of that rainbow. Olsen’s Homegrown eligible after spending 2011-2014 with the Sounders Academy, which would ease the burden of adding him to the roster. Olsen played opposite Wingo on the left against Atlanta United, and at one point he executed a pinpoint spin move around a defender to free himself space in the box. He’s a skilled player who could easily work his way onto a few 18-man squads this year. Whether the Sounders opt to pull the trigger or simply let him finish out his Seattle U career, he’s made an impression this preseason.



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