Seattle Sounders: Analyzing Sigi Schmid’s options up top

Seattle Sounders

Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey

Clint Dempsey’s departure for the United States Men’s National Team camp means Sigi Schmid has to decide who gets the nod up top.

The 61-year-old could pick either Lamar Neagle or Kenny Cooper to play alongside Nigerian hit man, Obafemi Martins.

Last season, Neagle flourished in the regular season. He scored eight goals and created four. He was a nightmare for outside backs when he played on the flanks and he played brilliantly alongside Eddie Johnson and Martins.

Prior to his unsuccessful stint with FC Dallas last season, Cooper was a goal scoring machine. The gigantic center forward scored 18 goals and lent a helping hand with three goals during the 2012 regular season.

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Of the two, Cooper is more of a natural center forward. The 29-year-old’s powerful frame makes it easier for him to play the target forward position. He can hold the ball up well, play with his back to goal and he’s always a presence inside the box.  Having Cooper in the team will make Seattle stronger on set-pieces.

Cooper’s abilities were acknowledged by Martins before the season started. Inter Milan’s ex-goalscorer told mlssoccer.com that Cooper “has big potential. He reminds me of Christian Vieri with how he plays. He was a big guy, too. We hope we play well together.”

Besides being a big body inside the box, Cooper also offers versatility across the front line. Even though he sometimes struggles, the American can play on the flanks. His power and surprising speed makes him a mismatch against most outside backs.

Neagle is a regular starter as a winger but without Dempsey, he could be moved up top. His scintillating combination with Martins last year puts him one step ahead Cooper in the pecking order.

The 27-year-old’s link up play with Martins last season was sublime. They had chemistry, a distinctive connection and their off-the-ball movements created holes in the middle of the defense.

Even though Neagle’s ball skills aren’t as adept as Dempsey’s, the talented forward can be very deceptive. His combination of speed with ankle-breaking movement can leave a defender perturbed. His pass and move style of play also makes him a difficult player to contain.

Because of Cooper and Neagle’s unique capabilities, Schmid can’t pick a player without taking into account how they’ll complement Martins.

Compared to last season, the Nigerian is a new player. He has added new dimensions to his game. Previously known has a goal poacher and finisher, Martins has evolved into a playmaker and a target forward.

In his second season in Major League Soccer, the 29-year-old has recorded more assists, six, in 11 games than he did all of last season. He has molded himself into an unselfish forward who loves to put pressure on the defense and battle taller defenders in the air.

With Cooper beside him, Martins will have to drop deeper into the midfield. He wouldn’t have to be the target forward, which in turn would pull him farther away from an opponent’s goal.

Alongside Neagle, Martins will retain his spot as the target man. However, he could find himself isolated because Neagles tends to drift wide.

Whomever Schmid chooses should have a brilliant game this Saturday. Seattle Sounders opponent, San Jose Earthquake, will be without its regular center backs due to international call up and suspension.

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