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Jaqua, Parke, Sturgis head expansion picks
by Ridge Mahoney, November 28th, 2008 7AM

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[MLS] With the 10 picks available in the expansion draft, Seattle Sounders FC spread its selections around. It selected a promising rookie, several capable younger players, and a few veterans while filling slots in defense, midfield, and forward. In fact, in a pinch, with keeper Kasey Keller and midfielder/winger Freddie Ljungberg already in tow, Seattle could field a decent team and also have three subs when signings Sebastian LeToux and Sanny Nyassi are added.

These 10 are a starting point, not a starting XI, and certainly a foundation that can be augmented by general manager Adrian Hanauer, technical director Chris Henderson, and whoever the head coach turns out to be.

Seattle also adopted a few question marks. Former U.S. U-20 Nathan Sturgis has certainly shown that he has talent, but can he stay healthy? Defender Jeff Parke will start 2009 under suspension but might he find a foreign club? Crew coach Sigi Schmid pondered a trade for Pete Vagenas last season; is it coincidence that he and Brad Evans, drafted by Schmid in 2007, are Seattle-bound? Will Khano Smith be a hero or a headache?

"I talked to Jeff about the opportunity in Seattle," said Henderson. "We talked about just the actual playing part of him coming to Seattle, and contributing. We did not discuss any of the financial or contract information.

"Jeff and I have a past relationship as teammates, just the excitement from our side to pick him up. It's something where he has to make a decision that he wants to play and stay in MLS, and that's something we're working on."

Parke earned a base salary $57,487 in 2008 and his contract is about to expire; as for the other players selected, Seattle need not pick up their current salaries and has been granted the right to negotiate new deals to pay them more, or less.

There has been no confirmation of the salary cap for next season nor how much allocation money Seattle has been given for its startup, but a source said the allocation money was "about $1.2 million." Ljungberg is a DP and thus no allocation money can be used on him, and no financial details regarding Keller's contract have been confirmed.

Seattle took the promising rookie, midfielder Stephen King, from Chicago rather than local product Brandon Prideaux, but certainly didn't ignore the back line. Wahl and Parke play in the middle, Riley can play outside back as well as in midfield, and though Sturgis played central defense in college (Clemson) and the U.S. U-20s, at the MLS level he's probably either a holding mid or outside back.

"We weighted the draft a little more defensively, rather than the attack," said Hanauer, following somewhat the same path as last year's expansion team, San Jose. "We feel very good about our expansion draft players as they complement our existing four players. Together, they comprise a very solid core."

The other Smith, Jarrod, is a former New Zealand youth international who has played several times for the senior team the past two years. He played for Crystal Palace Baltimore (USL) in 2007 and moved to Toronto FC for the 2008 season, during which he scored one goal in 20 games.

If nothing else, at this stage Seattle has size up top. Smith is 6-foot-2; Jaqua, a member of Houston's 2007 MLS Cup-winning team, is one of the best target men in the league (6-foot-4), yet can also handle the ball on the floor. He let his MLS contract expire last winter and played a few months in Austria.

Jaqua came back to the Dynamo during the summer, apparently with the understanding he would eventually wind up in Houston. He scored four goals in 14 league matches and played 68 minutes Wednesday night in a Concacaf Champions' League match against Luis Angel Firpo before being substituted.

The next order of business, other than a head coach of course, will be preparing for the 2009 MLS SuperDraft and deciding which members of the USL-1 Sounders to retain. "I think probably the next major step will be to sit down with the USL players from the previous Sounders to assess where they're at, and potentially offer some contracts," said Hanauer, who has been with the club for most of this decade.

"And there are a number of international players that we are continuing to research and pursue. We have a college draft in the not too distant future, in January, so we're preparing for that, and just really getting prepared to start having players report to camp in January."

MLS teams must notify the league office by Monday regarding players who will be in the option years of their contracts in 2009 which of those options will be picked up.



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