Minors play major role for Sounders' Andrew Weber

Sounders’ healthy goalkeeper was biding his time in USL Pro, which may soon align with MLS teams

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comJuly 23, 2013 

If Seattle Sounders FC has to fill a need next season, it might simply reach across the Starfire Sports Complex and promote a player from a fully affiliated USL Pro team playing there.

That might not happen until 2015, when it’s also still possible that team could be located in Pierce County.

But regardless of such details, the Sounders and Major League Soccer are committed to creating a more direct process than the one used this month, when the club reached all the way into the desert Southwest to arrange a loan that returned Andrew Weber from Phoenix FC to help ease the injury epidemic among Seattle goalkeepers.

Starter Michael Gspurning (forearm), reserve Marcus Hahnemann (hamstring) and third-stringer Josh Ford (knee) are unavailable.

The current system has worked well enough for the Sounders and for Weber, who has played 135 consecutive minutes while allowing two goals. He is expected to start again Sunday, when Chivas USA visits Seattle.

Yet even Weber feels the coming system will be an improvement.

“I think what they’re going to do next year is have the reserve teams play in the USL, which is good,” he said. “Now you have your reserves playing 24 games, so I think the relationship is good.”

Weber, 29, is a veteran of five MLS seasons, including the 2012 season that he spent with the Sounders, making three starts in MLS play.

However, the club didn’t retain him after that season, and Weber ended up back in his hometown of Phoenix, where a first-year USL Pro team had been created. Weber has made 14 appearances for Phoenix FC, with a 1.48 goals-against average.

Third-division USL Pro isn’t MLS, but it served the purpose of preparing Weber for his return to MLS.

“When you have a budget you have

to work within your means, especially with a first-year franchise like Phoenix,” he said. “… The level of play is OK. There are some very good players; there are some average players. But MLS is tops.”

MSL also is tops in facilities. Phoenix FC plays its home games at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe.

“Our pitch was nice,” Weber said. “To play at ASU was great. But you can’t beat Seattle. Look at what we have (at the Starfire training facility in Tukwila). Everything is given to you. It sort of humbles you when you come back. It’s like, ‘Oh, this is awesome.’ But again, it comes down to a money thing. … There’s definitely a difference in facilities.”

Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said such issues are taken into consideration, especially when the loan is going in the other direction.

This summer, the Sounders sent No. 1 draft pick Eriq Zavaleta on loan to the San Antonio Scorpions of the North American Soccer League, which is designated by U.S. Soccer as one level below MLS and one level above USL Pro.

“It’s team by team,” Hanauer said. “Some NASL teams have an extremely high quality of facilities, infrastructure, staff. Some USL teams have that. The Orlando USL team does extremely well and runs a really professional operation. They appear to have aspirations for MLS.”

In January, MLS announced a multiyear partnership that will more formally make the United Soccer Leagues’ Pro division an affiliated developmental league, more like the minor league model of baseball.

USL clubs will have at least four players on long-term loan from their MLS parents.

Seattle wants to create its own USL Pro team to replace the current Sounders Reserves. After some early consideration of locating that club at Cheney Stadium or elsewhere in the Tacoma area, Sounders FC now seems to be leaning toward Starfire, which serves as its practice facility and home for the Sounders Reserves.

Even with those details still to be worked out, Weber has seen firsthand what doors can be opened for ambitious players who just need a chance, or a second chance.

“Who doesn’t aspire to get to the MLS or to Europe or wherever you want to be?” he said. “(USL Pro) is a good league for young players and guys who aren’t getting minutes to go get some playing time. A lot of it when you jump up to the next level is just confidence and just being able to feel like you belong. And once you feel like you belong, then you can start getting yourself going.”

MONTERO TO LISBON

Sounders all-time scoring leader Fredy Montero has been loaned to Sporting Lisbon of Portugal, the Sounders announced Monday. Lisbon will have an option to buy Montero’s rights on permanent transfer. Montero, 25, joined Seattle in its expansion season of 2009. Over four seasons, he scored 47 goals in MLS play. Across all competitions, he had 60 goals and 43 assists. He has not played in Seattle this season, following a January loan to Millonarios FC in his native Colombia, where he scored a team-high seven goals in 21 appearances.

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt

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