Seattle's shortage of forwards could open door for teen star or USL scorer

TUKWILA, Wash. – Coming into the 2019 season, the Seattle Sounders’ forward depth was considered one of the bigger strengths of the roster constructed by GM Garth Lagerwey and his technical staff.

This week, it became one of the biggest question marks, as Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer confirmed on Thursday that striker Will Bruin (photo above) suffered a torn right ACL while going through a training drill. The 29-year-old veteran of nine MLS season is set to undergo surgery in July and won’t see the field again in 2019.

"We'll forge on, we have got to keep going," Schmetzer said. "We will miss him, but this group, this franchise, this team has overcome serious injuries before, and we will have to do it again."

The Sounders' predicament

Sounders Homegrown star Jordan Morris, who has four goals so far this season, can play at center forward for Seattle but he is currently with the US national team at the Gold Cup.

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In Bruin, the Sounders are losing one of the better reserve striker options in the league – one that would likely be a starter on many other teams.

He may not have the flashiest of games, but Bruin is a proven MLS commodity, with 50 goals to his name during his six-season stint with the Houston Dynamo before he signed with Seattle in 2017. Since joining the Sounders, he has found the net 20 more times in 63 games. He’s a strong hold-up forward, a physical presence to occupy opposing center backs, and has also shown an aptitude for performing in the clutch, with seven of his goals and two of his assists representing game-winning tallies for the Sounders.

Obviously, Seattle still have an elite starter at the position in Raul Ruidiaz, but the Peruvian is currently on international duty for the 2019 Copa America. Seattle would figure to slide Jordan Morris over from his spot on the wing as the first-choice replacement, but Morris is also on duty for his country with the United States at this summer’s Gold Cup.

And the return dates for both Ruidiaz and Morris are still up in the air ahead of Seattle’s stint of three MLS games in one week starting with a Saturday, June 29 home bout against the Vancouver Whitecaps (10 pm ET | MLS LIVE on EPSN+ in USA; TSN in Canada).

“Pretty soon we’ll find out who’s going through and who isn’t in both [international] competitions,” Schmetzer said. “We have players on teams that haven’t done as well as they might have hoped. So we’ll see who we get back prior to Vancouver.”

With that in mind, Schmetzer will at least need to conjure up a plan for a world without his top three strikers as the Sounders gear up for their return to league play.

Who's next in line?

Tacoma Defiance forward Justin Dhillon, who's on a goal-scoring run with the USL club.

The most intriguing option is probably 17-year-old Homegrown Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, who was signed to a first-team contract in May after a dominant showing during his time on Seattle’s youth academy clubs, where he won the Golden Boot for the Sounders’ 2019 Generation Adidas Cup-winning team and helped the U-17 team to a 2018 USSDA national title.

The Sounders may not have wanted to give Ocampo-Chavez MLS minutes this quickly, but general manager Garth Lagerwey also said the club won’t necessarily shy away from it – a sentiment he said also applies to 16-year-old midfielder and Ocampo-Chavez’s fellow first-team signee Danny Leyva.

“We didn’t sign these guys to be houseplants and stick them at the bottom of the roster,” Lagerwey told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “We want them to get opportunities. Look, if there’s a scenario now where three players at that position are out – Ruidiaz, Bruin and Morris – there’s an opportunity there for Alfonso. But it’s incumbent on him to seize the opportunity and the coaches will pick who gives us the best chance to win.”

Another in-house option is Tacoma Defiance forward Justin Dhillon, who has been spotted training with the first team at Starfire Sports Complex this week. The 24-year-old is red-hot in USL Championship play, with six goals in his last seven games. While he’s never played in an MLS match, Dhillon is the more seasoned pro and his recent form has certainly helped bolster his case for a first-team callup.

Schmetzer also said a formation featuring a false No. 9 is an option, a role attacking midfielders Nicolas Lodeiro and Victor Rodriguez are each capable of playing. Lodeiro is also on international duty with Uruguay at the Copa America.

“We’ve got a young forward [Ocampo-Chavez] on the roster,” said Schmetzer. “[Dhillon] is banging in goals. There are other options to play without a true center forward, a false nine. There are plenty of things we can come up with and we’ll work on those as we get close to Vancouver.”


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