Following three days of practice, we take the first crack at assessing what players stay and which ones will be packing their bags.
With two days of scrimmaging with the ball and two days of fitness training behind them by Friday, the Sounders will take off for Arizona to begin the real serious preseason preparations.
This gives us a moment to assess who likely goes, who stays and who is hanging on. Of course much can change over the course of the next three weeks, where coach Sigi Schmid and his staff will put the players through the fitness ringer (two-a-days) and begin to evaluate them on a full pitch in 11 v 11 matches.
The Sounders have brought in 40 players to contest for 28 roster spots. Players have about a month to prove they are starters or prove they can play in the MLS. March 1 is the league deadline for submitting the final roster.
But some may never make it that far. The Sounders are expected to make some player cuts before the team leaves for Arizona as well as throughout the next month.
Hometown boy Sean Morris, for example, drafted by Seattle in the MLS Supplemental Draft, has gone to the Montreal Impact in the USL-1 and won’t be returning to the Sounders.
Defender Julien Baudet, who came to Seattle from the Colorado Rapids via an expansion draft trade, has yet to agree to contract terms and has not participated in preseason, Sounders officials say. His status remains unclear.
So, here’s our take on who is most likely to stay and who is most likely to leave based on a 4-4-2 formation:
The Untouchables (the likely starting 11 against LA barring any injury or trade):
The Second Team (some more secure than others):
The Bubble (veterans and rookies who should be concerned about future employment opportunities):
Invited players getting a good look but it could be brief:
In the defense, Wahl, Scott, Graham, Earls and rookie Cruz (who has shown well, so far) are fighting for precious few spots. Tetteh, who is on the team, plays either left back or left mid, so he complicates matters for the others. If Baudet were in the mix, and he could be, I’d say goodbye to Graham, Wahl and Cruz. Baudet’s absence is giving hope to someone.
Veterans Levesque and Noonan could be kicking their last ball for the Sounders. With Noonan’s injuries and his age, it appears his days are numbered especially since Schmid appears to be high on White.
Levesque may have outlived his usefulness as a runner up and down the right flank. The level of technical quality among the team is getting higher; he may have reached his ceiling. Estrada, top pick last year, should be worried, too. He underperformed last year but has been sharp in preseason training. Montano is another one who could go either way, but youth will be on his side. Schmid keeps him.
Of the rookies, Cruz and Carrasco have looked solid and could slip into one of the final slots. Merideth has looked really sharp as a third keeper, but coaches say Ford is working hard, too. Only one will remain. Of the invited players making an impression: Nagle has stood out and Kabamba is highly rated.
For the group of veterans, draftees and invited players, the intensity level has been high over the past three days. Schmid said he is pleased with the overall base fitness levels of the players following their first day of fitness training.
Last year, 24 players went through the fitness test and nine fell below the minimum mark, Schmid said. This year, 31 players took the fitness test and five of them dropped below the minimum mark. Of those five, three were rookies.
“We are really pleased with the overall level of fitness and guys made some good jumps and we are pleased that our overall base level of fitness is higher than it was last year,” Schmid.
That makes Schmid’s job easier and harder at the same time. Fit players battling for a spot will make it difficult to decided who should stay or who should go — if other factors are equal.