SEATTLE - AUGUST 08: Alvaro Fernandez #15 of the Seattle Sounders FC waves to the crowd after defeating the Houston Dynamo 2-0 on August 8 2010 at Qwest Field in Seattle Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Yesterday, the Seattle Sounders released their list of unprotected players for Wednesday's MLS expansion draft. Seattle protected players that are indisputably their best: Fredy Montero, Kasey Keller, Jeff Parke, Osvaldo Alonso. They kept Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, even though the defender missed all but two months of the season with a knee injury. They protected Nate Jaqua, ignoring the fact that the striker received few starts this season. It's evident that the Sounders are building next season's squad around a steady core of players that can compete not just in the league, but in the U.S. Open Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League.
What I find most curious, however, is that the club protected Álvaro Fernández at the expense of Sanna Nyassi. Seattle signed the Uruguayan midfielder in July, and then proceeded to use him off the bench rather than as a starter. Nyassi received start after start even while it was apparent that speed and luck were his only attributes. The winger was guilty of sloppy passing, of attempting to take the ball into midfield rather than playing it wide, of seeming to not have a clue of the positioning of his teammates. In short, he might be fast, but that's about all Nyassi brings to the field.
Fernández, on the other hand, was able to light up the pitch every time he set foot upon it. While he might not be as fast as Nyassi, his skills more than compensate. He can read the game, and in so doing is able to put through pinpoint passes to his teammates. He seems to have forged a dynamic partnership with both Osvaldo Alonso and Fredy Montero, perhaps borne out of a common language. The right side of the field becomes more fluid when El Flaco steps in, creating an almost seamless link between Ossie and Fredy.
I've been arguing for the inclusion of Fernández in the starting XI since he arrived in Seattle, but for whatever reason, Sigi Schmid opted not to listen to me. It could be that Fernández was not fully fit after the World Cup. It could be that Schmid simply preferred to keep a steady starting lineup. But whatever excuses were made to keep Nyassi in at the expense of Fernández could not hold up after the semi-finals of the MLS Cup. Nyassi was worse than anonymous-he gifted possession to the Galaxy, he couldn't find a way through the midfield, he often went backward instead of forward.
And so Seattle has left him unprotected. Of course, there's every chance that Portland and Vancouver watched every Sounders game and will not pick up Nyassi, preferring the scoring abilities of Blaise Nkufo (who I fully expect to be snatched by the Whitecaps) or taking a solid defender in Leo Gonzalez or Patrick Ianni. Even if the draft comes and goes and Nyassi still wears a rave green kit, his inclusion on the unprotected list is a positive sign that the Sounders have realized that the Nyassi experiment is over.