TUKWILA, Wash. – Forward or defender? The biggest question surrounding Eriq Zavaleta heading into the 2013 season was what position he’d ultimately end up playing.
The Seattle Sounders still seem to think the 20-year-old’s greatest long-term upside is at center back, but he’ll be playing forward for at least the foreseeable future and that suits him just fine.
“I think more than anything it feels good to really have a spot,” Zavaleta told MLSsoccer.com. “I’ve been at the same spot for a couple months and, as crazy as that sounds to some people, it’s nice to have some comfort in knowing that you’re going to be playing forward everyday and you’re not thinking about what you need to do at two different positions. You’re just focusing on one.”
When the Sounders picked Zavaleta with the No. 10 pick in the 2013 SuperDraft, they proclaimed their desire to play him at center back despite the fact he was coming off a season during which he scored 18 goals at Indiana. True to their word, that’s where Zavaleta spent most of the preseason.
While Zavaleta had some good moments, Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid said the chances of him getting on the field were simply better at forward.
Shortly before the start of the season, the Sounders started to give Zavaleta more training time up front. About two weeks ago, Schmid told Zavaleta that he should plan on staying there for the rest of the year.
“It’s important for him to know that he has a whole season at it,” said Schmid, making it clear that a move to center back could still come eventually. “We had him going back and forth, and I felt it was important to sit him down and say this is the direction we’re going in this year.”
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Playing time hasn’t exactly been plentiful, as Zavaleta has only made one appearance for the senior team. He has started each of the past two Reserve League games, though, and even scored his first goal, a header from a corner kick.
“He’s someone that we didn’t expect in Year 1 that he was going to come in and tear it up,” Schmid said. “We expected it to be a little bit of a process. But we’re in that process. He’s a good kid and he’s working hard everyday.”
Moving from one position to another – especially two drastically different ones – is hardly ideal for a young player. Zavaleta says he trusts that the Sounders are looking out for his best interests.
“Wherever I’m placed, I’ll do my best and I’ll work hard,” he said. “I think Sigi has a plan for me. Right now he sees me having a chance to get on the field up front. I’m focused on the now, and right now I need to become a better forward to get onto the field, so that’s what I’ve been doing for the past couple months.”