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January 17, 2013 at 11:15 AM

Sounders trade up, select Indiana forward Eriq Zavaleta with No. 10 pick

zavaleta.jpgPhoto credit: IU Athletics

Sounders FC moved up in the MLS SuperDraft today, trading its No. 16 overall pick and allocation money to Toronto FC for the No. 10 pick.

Seattle then drafting Indiana forward Eriq Zavaleta, a member of Generation Adidas. Here’s his player profile on the league website.

Zavaleta, 20, is 6-foot-1, 185 pounds. He scored 18 goals in the 24 games for the national champion Hoosiers (tied for third in the country) and assisted on the winning goal in the College Cup final against Georgetown. The sophomore was a unanimous Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year selection and also named a College Soccer News first-team All-American and to the Soccer American MVP first team.

The draft broadcast mentioned Zavaleta is also seen by some teams as a defender, so we’ll ask about that. Analyst Alexi Lalas projected him as a forward for Seattle, and praised the forward’s back-to-goal game and refined style. Taylor Twellman said he has a tendency to try to do too much at times, comparing him to Kenny Cooper in that regard.

* * *

UPDATE 11:07 a.m. — We just chatted with Zavaleta on a conference call, more or that later, and he said he thinks the Sounders have a position in mind for him, but he’s coming into preseason with an open mind to play either forward or center back.

Zavaleta, just a sophomore, said he plans to get his degree but will be in town next week. He also credited Roger Levesque for the scuba-dive goal celebration seen in the highlight video below.

UPDATE 11:15 a.m. — Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid, on the draft broadcast, said Zavaleta’s position is TBD for now but he likes the first-round pick as a defender. The staff will apparently collaborate about it.

UPDATE 2:31 p.m. — A full transcript of a conference call with Eriq Zavaleta is posted after the jump.

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(How does it feel to be a Sounder?) “I wasn’t exactly sure how this draft was going to go. I knew this was going to be one of the crazier ones in years as far as trades go. You never know where you’re going to land, but I had a very, very, very positive meeting at the combine with Seattle, with Sigi (Schmid) and the coaching staff. I knew of their interest, and I let them know how honored I would be to be a part of the Sounders organization, and for them to be able trade up for me at 10 was a dream come true.”

(Have the Sounders given you an indication of whether they see you as a forward or as a center back?) “There’s a hint, but I think I’ll go into training camp and try to fill a need on the team and show myself in both positions. I’m sure that will be solved here in the coming weeks. Right now, I’m just excited to get there and to work hard in whatever position they play me.”

(A lot of people thought you might be drafted before No. 10. Were you disappointed to fall there?) “No, the number doesn’t matter to me. Wherever I went, I just wanted to go to a great organization. I couldn’t have gotten picked by a better one, and what really matters to me is where I went and this is a perfect place for me. Going 1 or going 10, it doesn’t matter because I know you have to prove yourself on the field. You don’t make yourself on draft day; you make yourself on the field and I’m ready to go prove myself.”

(Was there something that gave you a sense the Sounders might be interested?) “I think either position I filled a need for their team. I think the type of player that I am — being comfortable with the ball and being a hard worker — fit into their system, and I knew of their interest because of that. I really just reassured them that my interest was as high, if not higher to be able to go there, and for it to work out is great.”

(Do you plan on still taking classes after coming to MLS after your sophomore year?) “First of all, I plan on continuing my education. I’ve got some money set aside to be able to continue that. It’s been a goal of mine to complete my degree and that doesn’t change being in Seattle. I’m sure there are plenty of opportunities for me to be able to get that done, whether it be now or whether it be in the coming months or years. I’ve seen so much of this team and organization on TV and the incredible fan base that it has. Talking to the guys around, everybody was like, ‘You’re so lucky to be able to go to, one, such a great organization, but, two, such an incredible fan base.’ I can’t wait to be able to step foot on that field in front of those fans.”

(What are your family roots?) “My dad (Carlos) is full El Salvadorian. He played in El Salvador and for the national team. He came to the States and married my mom who’s an American, so yeah, I have El Salvadorian blood.”

(What do you know about Seattle?) “To tell you that I’m an expert on the city, I would be lying to you, but I know that it’s a great city with a lot of people. I don’t know too much more about it, but I’m anxious and ready to be able to be there and learn as much as I can about it.”

(What excites you most coming to the Sounders?) “I’m looking forward to playing for such an incredible team and such an awesome fan base. I think the fan base in Seattle is unmatched by any MLS club and to be able to be a part of that and play in front of that is going to be an honor.”

(How would you scout yourself regarding strengths and weaknesses?) “I’m going to have to adjust to the speed of play as many players do going from college to the pros, but I think I’m comfortable on the ball. I like to be on the ball. I’m a big guy, so I like to use my body. I like to get in the air and win balls in the air and hold stuff off and be able to use the things that I have. I’m pretty big on being able to use what I have and not exposing the weaknesses I have. I think that will only continue to get better.”

(Even with intentions of continuing your education, you’ll still be reporting to preseason camp next week, right?) “Yes. Correct.”

(We saw a scuba-dive goal celebration of yours online. Was that inspired by Roger Levesque?) “Yeah, I actually have to give all the credit to Roger. He was the first person I ever saw do it and the only person I’ve ever seen do it. I watched it when watching the game on ESPN and thought it was a really cool and original idea. There’s not too many of those out there and I tried to implement that one into my celebrations at Indiana University and have some fun with it.”

(What do you know about rivalries, particularly the one here with the Timbers?) “I’ve seen a lot of rivalries on TV in different sports growing up and I know what an incredible rivalry that one is with two great fan bases. I’m excited to be able to be a part of such an incredible environment and hopefully get some wins and make this rivalry one-sided.”

(On potentially changing positions despite recent success at forward…) “I think I’m not necessarily keying on just one position. I think that’s going to be solved as a need for the team. I’m ready to be able to step in and hone that one specific position and answer all the questions of, ‘Am I a forward or am I a center back. I really feel like the Seattle organization and Sigi have a position in mind for me and will teach me to really get better at that position.”

(What’s your biggest strength as a player?) “I think my biggest thing is that I like to use my body and I’m smart about how to use it. I have a soccer brain. I’ve grown up around soccer with my uncle being Greg Vanney, who had a great MLS career, and my dad who played professionally at a young age. Just watching them play taught me a lot about the game of soccer and I think that’s a big advantage I have.”

(And Greg Vanney is your mother’s brother?) “Correct.”


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