For just the third time in their existence, the Sounders FC is preparing for the SuperDraft this week. In 2009, they were building from a position of power with the first overall pick and a wide-open slate as an expansion team. 2010 saw them pick 11th after a successful first season and they looked to add depth with the pick.
This year, the goal is slightly different. While they are still looking to add depth to the roster, it is from the 11th slot in the first round of a draft that is expected to produce several more consistent contributors than either of the previous two seasons. In addition, the Sounders hold three picks in the second round, furthering their chances to enhance their roster with players from several positions that could contribute in MLS play, as well as in CONCACAF Champions League and the US Open Cup.
Another factor that will aid those players is the expanded roster size and the reinstated reserve league.
“When I compare it back to the draft of 2009, I don’t think it’s necessarily as top-heavy as that draft was,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think there were a number of guys that were able to step in and do really well like Steve Zakuani did for us. I don’t know if this one is as deep from a standpoint of those outstanding guys, but I also think it’s a little deeper in terms of that next group of players.”
That will be where the Sounders intend to make their hay in this draft. With nine starters returning from the lineup that ended the regular season on a 13-2-3 run against MLS opponents in league and Open Cup play before falling to the LA Galaxy in the first round of the playoffs. They will also add Brad Evans and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado back to the equation after both missed the last half of the season with injuries and they will have full preseasons with Blaise Nkufo and Alvaro Fernandez.
They have also already added Erik Friberg to the midfield, Danny Earls on defense and O’Brian White to the group of forwards, softening the blow of losing Sanna Nyassi and Nathan Sturgis in the expansion draft.
Because of that return, there aren’t many spots open, save the reserve roles that prove vital when the schedule becomes congested in later parts of the season.
“I think if you look at the new players and you look at the core it’s a pretty strong team,” technical director Chris Henderson said. “We have to see what falls to us at our picks and look at our roster and see what’s going to help us.”
Speculation has been that Seattle may seek a goalkeeper to become the heir apparent to Kasey Keller. One of the top keepers in the league in his two seasons in MLS, Keller announced that the 2011 season will be his last and many pundits agree that the Sounders would be wise to pick his successor from this draft if the right player were to come their way.
With the reserve league and expanded rosters, teams will be more likely to carry three goalkeepers, which will allow the Sounders to keep Keller as their starter with Boss as a backup while grooming a young player in the third spot.
Likely a young player, the third keeper will have a unique experience in Seattle where he can play every day with arguably the best goalkeepers in US Soccer’s history, an experienced goalkeeper coach in Tom Dutra and Schmid, who has a strong history with goalkeepers. At UCLA, he coached the likes of Brad Friedel, Nick Rimando, Matt Reis and Kevin Hartman, among other standouts.
“If you look at the coaches in this country, I think Sigi’s developed the best goalies in the history of American soccer so we’re hoping he can do that in Seattle too,” Henderson said.
Another option for the Sounders could be to trade one or more of their picks for improved draft positioning or to add more veteran talent to the roster.
The trade-front has been relatively quiet leading up to the draft, but once teams get to Baltimore on Wednesday, the talks will likely pick up, Henderson said, and that is an option that the Sounders are open to exploring.
“We’re open to that if we feel there is a situation that can make our club stronger. We think we have a strong core of players, but we do feel there are a few spots that we’d like to add some depth to our roster,” he said. “We’re definitely going to be talking to teams and seeing what’s open.”
Until then, we’ll all be left to wait and see how the next 48 hours play out. The Sounders roster could see some mighty additions by Thursday evening.
The 2011 SuperDraft will be held at the Baltimore Convention Center Thursday beginning at 9 am Pacific Time. We will be covering the draft live on SoundersFC.com, or you can watch live on ESPN2 for the opening round and MLSSoccer.com for the final two rounds.