It’s been some month for Real Salt Lake attacking dynamo Sebastian Saucedo.
Saucedo is unequivocally one of the most exciting young players in the nation, and in just the last month he’s starred at the Generation adidas Cup (where he was named the player of the tournament and won the golden boot), a U18 MNT camp in front of Jurgen Klinsmann and got a call-up to an RSL reserves match. Saucedo is a 2015, meaning he’s a U16 eligible player playing up with the U18 MNT and, in some cases, full-on professionals. And he deserves the looks. He’s been shifted around the front line a bit in the past, but he projects as a tricky attacking midfielder or second forward who can both sneak into space off shoulders and run into space to use his slew of intricate and unnaturally comfortable ball skills. There’s certainly some Clint Dempsey here. With Saucedo we’re talking creativity, motion and a surprising amount of power given his size. You’ll see why in a bit.
This column tends to focus on creative attacking players because the U.S. player pool is in dire need of them at the highest levels. Any world federation is looking for outliers to round out the genetic code. If your pool is overflowing on one end with brass knuckles and is unnaturally low on feather dusters on the other, finding players who marry the two poles isn’t enough. You need both sides. Hopefully we can all agree the U.S. is heavy on brass and light on feather.
In steps Bofo Saucedo, who you’ll be hearing plenty more about in the coming months and years. Here are three highlights from Saucedo’s last month. They hit on just about every end of the attacking light spectrum.
First, let’s take a glimpse at the most recent U18 camp in Carson, which produced a handful of memorable performances. Saucedo’s was among them. He played wide left in a scintillating 3-2 loss to Mexico last month, and it’s hard to argue with his day. His goal was a thing of beauty.
This entire sequence from Saucedo is poetry. He starts running under the drifting cross about 10 yards behind the midfield stripe, and he wins possession smack in the middle of the field before kicking off his odyssey with a couple deft touches. One Mexico central defender steps too far out and Saucedo smells blood, effortlessly skipping around his challenge to open up the final third like a book.
Then you have this.
Every attacking player sits up as though the roller coaster is about to crest.
Saucedo has Coy Craft off to his left, and he can easily play Craft through for a goal opportunity. At that point you’re playing with fire, since you have to formulate the defender’s movement before he does it, but it’s an option I dare say most would take. It’s easier, anyway. In a lot of ways, internally, you kind of figure that’s where he’s going. Pass the buck. Instead, Saucedo rips apart the framework of the play in nanoseconds and forges his own path. When the remaining central defender doesn’t step and opts to fall in with Craft, Saucedo knows he has a crack of light. And when the trailing defender is late to recover, Saucedo writes a decision for which the defense handed him the pen. And what a decision it was.
A 2015, remember.
And then there’s this, which will bear no analysis beyond the sound of shameless ogling.
Now contrast that with this. Same tournament, different game, completely different end of the spectrum. One of those delightfully simple sequences that usually passes out of all knowing minutes after its completion, though perhaps it deserves a bit more meditation. Saucedo is great at using his high motor to press and apply pressure where he wants the ball, which cuts down on needless effort and often results in immediate reversals in attack. RSL just pops right back up, like an iron-jawed pugilist. This sequence doesn’t result in a goal, but you see Saucedo turn back possession to RSL in a dangerous area, skip off a simple but lovely pass after navigating through incredible congestion to open the attack back up and then snap off a legit scoring opportunity. Simple but subtly sublime.
Saucedo’s is a skill set beyond reason. You watch him charge into space and he looks like Clint Dempsey, you watch him finish and he looks like Wondo and you watch him play with defenders and he looks like nothing the national team currently employs. Of course he still has a ways to go, and his discipline in space and positional awareness is still coming along. In fact, the vast majority of talented young attacking players have room to grow in that category – learning to play with others is a valued and sometimes overlooked skill set among the gifted and talented.
But when you shuck off the layers here, you get a fantastically creative player with skill for miles. Good luck holding onto this dynamo, RSL. You’ll need it.