I get fooled almost every season.
In training camp or an early friendly, some new Seattle Sounder will do some jaw-dropping thing and I’ll think, ‘This could be a star being born, a guy that most fans don’t yet know much about who will go on to make a difference.’
Then a few months later, most fans still don’t know much about him — often because he’s no longer with the club.
That happened in 2014 with forward Kevin Parsemain, who seemed to score goals every time he was in my line of vision. It happened with Christian Sivebaek, who in 2012 sparkled in training sessions. That same preseason it happened with Babayele Sodade, who nailed what remains one of the most eye-popping training goals I’ve seen. And it happened in a different way with 2013 draft pick Eriq Zavaleta, who seemed to have a golden resume: a center back’s body with enough ball skills to have led the Big 10 in goal scoring.
I’d have bought stock in all of them. Yet none went on to make any significant impact. None remains with the team. Only Zavaleta remains in Major League Soccer, still mostly unproven at Toronto FC.
The uncertain business of turning potential into production is a major issue for the Sounders again this season, as some fantasize about how good forward Oalex Anderson could become, even as others fear they might have overestimated forward Jordan Morris.
If it’s any consolation, even coach Sigi Schmid admits it’s a difficult issue.
“You’re wrong all the time,” he said. “If I was perfect at this we’d be 4-0 right now and you guys wouldn’t be asking me questions, and they’ll call me — whatever — ‘The Wizard of Tacoma’ or something.”
Schmid has warned against fans and media expecting too much too soon from either Anderson or Morris — although that doesn’t mean he thinks either should be written off.
“There’s always a thing that I say to young coaches: ‘You have to be aware of guys’ potential potential,” Schmid said. “Certain guys, sometimes you watch them work and they have a great speed element, they have a certain quality to their game. That potential looks good, but then you’re always going like ‘Ooh, ooh … aww’ as he misses it. And you don’t know.”
Anderson, 20, and Morris, 21, each share that great speed element. Both are showing themselves to be hard workers and eager learners. Both have demonstrated their ability to score goals, although at lower levels: Anderson for club and country at St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Morris at Stanford.
One or the other could be asked to step up Sunday at Houston, as starting forward Nelson Valdez is questionable with a leg injury.
But neither has yet produced a goal in MLS: Morris in three starts and one reserve appearance, and Anderson in a total of 48 minutes off the bench.
And that brings us to the other and opposite issue with young players: writing them off too quickly.
“There’s other times you think ‘I don’t know if he has it,’ and the guy does have it, ends up going somewhere else and showing it,” Schmid said. “That happens. And there are times you think, “Hey, this guy has it,” and he just doesn’t push through to the next level, for whatever reason he doesn’t make it. … So you ask yourself why. Sometimes it’s psychologically: Do they have the drive and the willpower to come through? But sometimes maybe the opportunities (aren’t there); you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The veteran coach cites the example of forward Kei Kamara, who Schmid coached and liked at Columbus, but traded away because of immediate needs. Kamara bounced to San Jose and Houston before becoming a top MLS forwards at Kansas City and now back in Columbus.
“There is no one formula, and it’s tough to predict,” Schmid said. “I get things wrong. Everybody does.”