I was just reading Abbott Smith's great article on the current roster battles heading into camp. Of course, that begs the question who would you put on the roster if the decision was made prior to camp? I thought I would take a stab at it as a way to pass the time on a snowy Seattle day.
So, here's my armchair manager's stab on at the roster by position and open slots. It's also an attempt by me to feel through the arcane MLS roster rules and see where the team stands at the (delayed) start of camp. Feel free to disagree (or agree) violently in the comments section.
The roster by the MLS Roster Rules:
Salary Budget Players: Alonso, Burch, Evans, Fernandez, Fucito, Gonzalez, Gspurning, Hurtado, Johansson, Ianni, Levesque, Montero, Neagle, Ochoa, Parke, Rosales, Scott, Sivebaek, White & Zakuani
Off-Budget Players: Carrasco, Cato, Duran, Estrada, Ford, Meredith, Ngassa, Sanyang, Sodade, Tetteh
International Players: Cato, Fernandez, Gonzalez, Johansson, Ngassa, Rosales, Sanyang, Tetteh, Gspurning, Sivebaek
Cut/Released/Waived: Alvarado, Aman, Banton, Feighner, Gutierrez, Pontius, Rose, Seamon,
So, the first and most important way to build up a roster is to go by the MLS book and make sure you're filling in the available spots correctly. The 20 Salary Budget Players count against the cap which was $2.675 million in 2011. I couldn't find the 2012 cap number, but we'll assume a 5% increase for cost-of-living increases for the players bringing us to 2.8 million.
So, there's no real way to know for sure how much this roster would cost against the cap, but we can make some educated guesses. Seventeen of the 20 players were in the league last year and we can the MLS Player's Union data to guesstimate their cap hit. We get approximately $2.3 million in base salary after giving Burch a 1/3 haircut for his recent contract negotiations and well deserved DP level raised to Rosales. The players also get a 5% increase to account for raises included in their contracts and Neagle gets a deserved pay bump for moving up to the senior slots.
For the last three we're going to have to make some educated guesses. Gspurning is a experienced goal-keeper, but I don't imagine he can command the league leading salary of a Kasey Keller. A good, experienced goal keeper in MLS (e.g. Thorton, Hesmer, Pickens, Hartman, Rimando) makes about $150,000 so we'll use that as a conservative base for Gspurning. I'm going to guesstimate a salary of $110,000 for Adam Johansson based on Gonzalez's salary. Like Gonzalez he is an experienced vet coming to the Sounders with some national team experience. Sivebaek is younger and less experienced so I'm going to estimate $60,000 for his base salary leaving us just under the cap at $2.63.
For the international players I just used the listings at the Sounders website. Surprisingly, neither Gspurning or Sivebaek are listed as internationals. That's probably a mistake. If so, then the team will need to either cut two additional internationals, acquire two international slots from other teams or quickly get green cards for Fernandez, Gonzalez, Rosales or Tetteh.
So, how does the team look by position? First off, let's go two deep to start the season and see how we look at each spot. Then we can sort out the development and depth spots on the roster.
Team by Position (2-deep)
GK: Gspurning, Ford, Meredith
CB: Hurtado, Parke, Ianni, Scott
LB: Gonzalez, Burch
RB: Johannson, Duran
CDM: Alonso, Carrasco
CM: Evans, Levesque
RW: Rosales, Sivebaek
LW: Fernandez, Neagle
FWD: Montero, Fucito, Ochoa, Sodade
Depth/Development Projects: Cato (WF/RW), Estrada (RB/WF/RW), Ngassa (WF/RW), Sanyang (CDM/RB), Tetteh (LB/LW)
Injured: White & Zakuani
Weak Spots: Looking at the roster two deep at each position points out a couple of spots of weakness. The first is at the CM slot where injury prone Evans is backed up by Levesque. Levesque is a perfectly capable back-up in league play and can also start in Open Cup and Reserve Games. However, we know that the reserve midfield is very fluid and that Fernandez can fill that spot should Evans go out for a prolonged period. Or Sigi could switch to a 2 CDM midfield.
The second is at the RB spot where there are no natural RBs to back-stop Johannson. My pick is Duran. According to Sigi he's smart, versatile and deceptively fast. His natural spot is probably CB, but he can provide depth there this season when needed. However, I foresee the back-up RB spot becoming a season long competition between Duran and Estrada. Scott will also be in the mix especially when Sigi wants to shut-down a player like Brek Shea.
Note on Injured Players: The Sounders could also play with the Injured Reserve list to keep a couple more minimum salary players. Basically, they could repeat what they did with Fucito and Seamon in previous years. A player currently in an off-budget slot could be placed on the injured reserve. That player would need to sit out six games and another Sounder would need to go on the injured reserve to free up a slot before the player could participate in league games.
However, that player would still be eligible for Open Cup and CCL games. Then a similar minimum salary player could be retained without going over the cap. The rule as I read it wouldn't work for Salary Budget players since they make more than the league minimum and all of that salary counts against the cap regardless of whether they are on the injured reserve. Unfortunately, the two players most likely to start the year on the injured reserve are Salary Budget Players.
Analysis of Players on/off the Bubble
Alvarado: One of the most interesting players coming into camp. He's young, dynamic and the Sounders have obviously been keeping an eye on this kid for a while. However, the LB slot is stacked and the Sounders are going to be up against the limit on roster spots. Ever Alvarado will need to outplay Michael Tetteh to grab a spot and I don't see that happening.
Banton: I've spent plenty of time pouring over highlight reels and tapes from the combine since Jason Banton was drafted. The young Englishman reminds me of Zakuani in all the right ways. Great on-ball skills. Good short passing. Likes to cut in from the wing. Good mid-range shot. What he doesn't have is Zak's explosive speed. I think the Sounders will be looking for a young player with that extra gear to develop.
Cato: Cordell Cato is a bit of blank slate at this point. What I do know is that the Sounders are high enough on this kid to offer him a contract prior to training camp. That's a huge vote of confidence. I have to figure he's a good lock to secure one of those valuable developmental slots going into camp.
Estrada: I'll admit that I'm not the biggest Estrada fan. I've seen him at a few reserve games and he seems to lack the creativity or athleticism to be a regular starter in MLS at either the wing or withdrawn forward positions. However, Sigi will try him out at RB at camp and I expect him to do well enough there to secure a roster spot.
Ngassa: This is the guy I'm pulling for at camp this season. He has the explosive speed to be a force at the wing or the withdrawn forward spot. His signing would also represent a huge step for the Tanzania initiative. However, as an international player fighting at the deepest spot on the field, he's going to have to fight tooth and nail to earn a spot.
Seamon: After a good freshman season Michael Seamon seemed to regress a bit and might have fallen out of favor with Sigi. The back-up CM spot is currently his to lose. However, with roster spots so tight I have him being cut to allow Sigi to retain a veteran player like Levesque who has greater versatility across the field.