LOS ANGELES — As far as Garth Lagerwey is concerned, the negotiating table is always open for business at the MLS SuperDraft.
One of Lagerwey’s first orders of business as Sounders General Manager and President of Soccer two years ago was to engineer a madcap draft-day trade that ultimately kept Cristian Roldan in town. After two full seasons, Roldan’s become a starter and an MLS Cup champion. The MLS SuperDraft is only deep for those front offices that do their due scouting diligence, and there’s never a question about the Sounders’ dedication in this.
The Sounders had three picks on Friday in the first two rounds of the draft, one at No. 16 and again at No. 22 in the first round, and finally at No. 44 in the second, the last pick of the afternoon. The Sounders’ draft table was prepping its pick at No. 16 - the same spot where Roldan went in 2015 - when Lagerwey felt a presence behind him.
It was NYCFC.
“I didn’t see them right away,” Lagerwey said. “And then they offered (us) a bunch of money. And we took it.”
The trade was the Sounders’ first action on a day that largely went as planned. Seattle accepted $75,000 in allocation money from NYCFC for the pick - this is the first year those allocation sums are being made public - while the Sounders stuck to their two natural picks at 22 and 44. Seattle, of course, ultimately took Stanford defender Brian Nana-Sinkam with its first pick and international player Dominic Oduro with its last.
The Sounders still have three more picks in the draft (Nos. 56, 66 and 88), which resumes Tuesday with the final two rounds taking place via conference call. But Friday was the showcase, and it was an afternoon to remember from Seattle’s perspective.
The Sounders entered the day with a flexible agenda. They needed depth in the central midfield, where they lost Erik Friberg in the offseason. They needed competition at center back, where they entered the draft with just three players. And they needed width. Their first two picks addressed two of those needs.
Nana-Sinkam spent the past four years developing as an adept center back at Stanford. He was an integral part of the defense that backstopped the Cardinal’s two consecutive national titles in 2015 and 2016, and Stanford managed to run through the NCAA tourney in 2016 without giving up a single goal. He doesn’t have prototypical size for a center back - he stands about 6-foot even - but he has springy legs and tends to find a way to body off attackers before they can maneuver into dangerous positioning in the first place.
Sounders head scout Kurt Schmid’s been following Nana-Sinkam since his freshman year, and when he slipped through nearly the entire first round untaken, the Sounders had their man.
“Brian’s an athletic kid,” Schmid said. “He’s a good tackler. When he has the ball he’s a simple passer. He’s better in the air than his size would indicate. Those are things we look for in a center back, and we think he can develop in the future.”
That helped address depth at center back. The next pick added an enticing, if relatively unknown, element to the central midfield.
Oduro’s name alone drew raised eyebrows when he popped up as an invitee to the MLS Combine. He shares it with a longtime resident MLS speedster, but Oduro’s skill set is vastly different. As he displayed in his performances at the combine, Oduro, 21, is a patient defensive midfielder not unlike Osvaldo Alonso in play preference. Physically, he was one of the quickest players at the combine. He finished sixth in the 30-meter dash and fifth in the agility test. Those are just numbers, of course, but they reflect Oduro’s ability to cover the field sideline to sideline. He’s about the furthest thing from a lumbering destroyer as it gets.
The Sounders in particular liked his professional experience. Oduro spent two years in Manchester City’s youth setup from 2011-13 before joining Danish club FC Nordsjaelland last year.
“It was just, you watch the three games (at the combine), we interviewed him and he had a good interview,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said of Oduro. “And you just get that gut feeling that he might have some potential. Obviously the professional experience helped him. Because he looked pretty steady in those three games.”
In the end, Schmetzer noted the Sounders’ draft board unfolded “exactly the way we wanted it to.” With what was available at both the 22nd and 44th picks, Nana-Sinkam and Oduro were the best players available at positions of need. The rest is up to them - they’ll both have uphill battles to make the final roster for the defending MLS Cup champs in training camp - but the Sounders’ decision-making team left Los Angeles feeling positive headed into the final two rounds Tuesday.