I’m known to get a little too excited with potential and prospects, but after watching Seattle Sounds 2 dispatch the defending USL champion Sacramento Republic on Saturday night I have to ask. How much will the presence of S2 affect the makeup of the first team roster?
Everyone watching S2’s inaugural game came away impressed. Gorgeous ball movement, deft finishing, solid set pieces: the definition of Sounders soccer. Who wasn’t tempted to think if Rossi or Craven or Mansaray could do the same things at the next level? Sometimes lesser competition muddies the evaluation of talent. However. Rossi’s quality on his free kick goal, Mansaray crossing the final assist with the outside of his foot to a streaking Roldan, and Craven’s balance and touch controlling the pass before smashing it home are all translatable skills.
As I discussed recently, sports is about new blood. In baseball, the late season Triple-A call-up who contributes to the playoff run. But soccer in the United States has long lacked a competent minor league. So has the NFL, but that league is still littered with stories where “untested” scout teamers blossom on the biggest stage. Kurt Warner was a journeyman nobody until Trent Green got injured in the preseason. Same with Tom Brady until Drew Bledsoe’s week 2 injury. The coaches saw plenty of both at practice, enough to slot them second string but without a timely injury, they’d never have surpassed the coach’s wildest imagination. “Next man up” is great and all, but what if the next man never gets the chance?
A bias exists on the practice field. Professional sports, the last great meritocracy, is not exactly that. The human animal is sentimental and risk averse. It is much easier to reward past performance than project future returns. Most coaches and managers have trouble selling high (see Amaro Jr., Ruben, and the Philadelphia Phillies). A good coach should cull as ruthless as death the “soon-to-be” from the “just-was”. Belichick lucked into Brady. He and the Patriots had just signed the 29 year-old Drew Bledsoe to a then-record 10-year, $103 million contract. How was “the greatest coach of all time” unable to see that the young Brady was ripe to overtake the old pro? If the Patriots had a developmental team, say the Pats 2, they may have known sooner that Brady was the future.
DeAndre Yedlin is arguably the Sounders’ Brady, a talented unknown who became a star because of an injury to a trusted vet. The Sounders had no intention of moving on from Adam Johansson until his injury. Sigi is a sharp evaluator of talent, he knew when to move on from Eddie and Mauro, but he wasn’t clamoring to start Yedlin back in March 2013. We, and the USMNT, got lucky Johansson was injured that preseason. S2 should take a little luck out of the equation.
I doubt presence of S2 provides serious roster churn this season but, at least, when we have to replace Deuce and Oba we’ll have a much better idea of who’s next up.