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December 21, 2011 at 12:37 PM

Tech. director Chris Henderson talks combines and drafts

henderson mug.jpgA scouting frame of mind.

That’s what the Sounders FC staff is in now, according to technical director Chris Henderson, after hosting 67 college players in its third annual invitational combine over the weekend.

With the MLS combine and a pair of college drafts coming in January, team officials are ready. Ready to evaluate. Ready to find that player or two or more that can fill a need and make an impact.

“You’re looking at a wide range of players at different positions and you’re also looking at the team needs we have and whether you think a player will fit in to our group,” Henderson said.

Along with some top players that will be in the MLS combine, the Sounders FC combine also featured a number of NAIA players and others from lower-division programs that the team hopes can develop into hidden gems or late-round steals.

As mentioned in our story for Wednesday’s paper, Henderson estimated there might be one roster spot available to the 67 invited to Las Vegas for the three-day camp. About four or five, he said, stood out as players that could potentially make the team for the 2012 season.

“They’ll definitely be in a pool of players that we watch,” Henderson said, not wanting to identify the players for obvious reasons before the drafts.

Beyond the standouts that can have an immediate impact, building relationships is another important part of the combine, particularly with players deemed not yet MLS-ready. Those guys might go play in the USL or lower leagues in Europe in order to develop (the Lamar Neagle route, some might say) and having some background with the Sounders could be a plus.

“I think the more players you can have a sense of, the more you’re going to be prepared in years to come,” said Henderson.

That isn’t to say there wasn’t some top talent there. New York Red Bulls defender Tim Ream, who is attracting interest from English Premier League teams, attended the Sounders’ combine before the 2010 draft. Servando Carrasco, Josh Ford and Bryan Meredith were attendees last year.

In 2009, Seattle hosted 60 players at its combine — 20 went to the MLS combine, 15 were drafted and seven are still in MLS. In 2010, 35 combine invitees were drafted and 14 signed with MLS.

From year to year, Henderson admitted it’s hard to compare the talent level.

“Maybe they’re all improving,” he said. “But there are certain positions where a guy really stood out (and could be) a higher draft pick.”

Due to the fact that the Sounders roster is deeper now than it was in 2009, Henderson said the team has narrowed its focus when it comes to its combine. With limited roster spots available, Seattle spent more time looking at positions of need, including outside back.

“We know what our needs are and where we have depth and where we need to focus for this coming year,” he said.

The Sounders have had varied success when it comes to drafting impact players out of college. I briefly addressed that topic in a blog post a couple days ago and asked Henderson how the team thinks it has done in the college drafts the past three seasons.

“We’re probably right in line with most teams in the league,” he said. “We’ve hit on some and we’ve missed on some. It’s really not easy to tell how a guy’s going to do when he gets into the pros. Sometimes it just takes putting the player in that environment and it’s either sink or swim. And sometimes we’re evaluating guys against the talent that’s at their level, which is with other college players. Then when you see them with the pros, sometimes they can develop and sometimes they can’t.

“You always want to do all the research and everything could be positive, and you still get it wrong. I think a lot of it depends on the individual and how he adapts to being a pro.”

Next up for the Sounders, before the MLS combine from Jan. 6-10, is an international combine in Trinidad, believed to be Jan. 2-4. This is the first time Seattle has hosted a combine outside the country.

Said Henderson: “It’s a combine where we’re looking to find one of those hidden players who can come in a make a difference.”

Henderson went on to reference Cordell Cato, who will sign with the Sounders according to a report, as an example of talent in T&T, along with former MLS players Evans Wise (Cato’s agent) and Stern John.

In closing, it should be a wild couple of weeks leading into the start of the season, with player announcements expected at any time.

“We’re working on (signing) a couple of players and hopefully we’ll be getting (deals) done in the next two weeks,” Henderson said.

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