It was only a third of the way into the press conference, but the most poignant statement of Sigi Schmid's was his answer to the question "Do you want Fredy Montero back?" Sigi's response was simple. "I want all my players back." Of course that was after 21 minutes of he and Adrian Hanauer explaining how that will not be possible.
The Seattle Sounders are tight against the salary cap. That is not unusual in MLS. What is different here this year is that there is no expansion draft taking a player or two away; there is no Allocation Money coming in for qualifying for the next CONCACAF Champions League cycle; there are no retirements of very well paid legendary goalkeepers; there is no remaining money from the expansion year.
Those limitations mean that major players may be gone.
"I’m worried about everything. And yes, something’s got to give," Hanauer explained. "Either we have to sell a player and get allocation money, we need to renegotiate contracts, we need to make some trades, we need to have one less DP—something has to give. Again, something usually has to give every year. It’s not as though this is the first time we’ve every dealt with this. We’ll figure it out."
It will almost certainly be a mix of those methods.
In order to make some significant additions, the Sounders will have to make some possibly painful subtractions while searching for value buys.
Sell Player For Allocation
There aren't many players that would be worth a large amount of allocation. To get allocation money a team must make more from the sale than they have paid that player in contract and transfer fees. If that's Fredy Montero that's several million dollars. If it is Osvaldo Alonso the sales fee would be lower, but some would say he's even more important to the team. Maybe an Eddie Johnson could net some money, but teams are also likely to be wary of someone with his history. It is notable that Hanauer said the team will pick up EJ's option. Outside of those three likely highest value players the team would need to sell a collection of others in order to get enough funds.
The reason for that is that while the cap will go up about 5% player salaries go up a typical 5-15% based on playing time and age. For some players their options and subsequent years are even higher. This angle is the most dependent on wealthy foreign teams for help.
This option requires the help of a player that feels they are overpaid or a substantial renegotiation that extends a player for a couple years to bring a single year down, but assure them of more total money. While a few players may be overpaid for their role and performance are those same players going to help the team out by voluntarily reducing their contracts? That kind of love for a team is a bit rare and is likely subjected to limitations in the CBA. Reducing the value of several non-DP players would probably be enough to keep everyone. That would let the team's roster stay the same. It isn't going to happen.
Reduce Number Of DPs
This was not mentioned in order to add a different Designated Player, but as a means to keeping the majority of the team in Seattle. Sigi Schmid mentioned that he was satisfied overall with the current Designated Players pointing out that Christian Tiffert came midseason and should improve in 2013; Fredy Montero he compared to the rest of League DPs overall production in a favorable manner; and pointed out that Mauro Rosales put up another 13 assists. All would take hundreds of thousands to get below the DP threshold. The extension necessary to make that happen would lock a player into MLS and the Sounders for some time. That kind of risk may be necessary. It would free up another DP slot, but not the salary cap room for them. So, if Seattle does bring a current DP down while signing another the other methods listed must happen as well. There's also the question about what type of DP would be pursued.
Trade Within League
This would be a balance of finding a player that another team values at least as highly as the Sounders do, that has cap room for the player and would be willing to trade Allocation Money to acquire them. Considering the number of waivers, declined options and other types of cuts teams are making to reduce their own cap value there are significant limitations to this option. There will be quality talent available in the upcoming Re-Entry Draft and the Sounders participation in that even may be limited due to their lack of cap room. That's true for other teams as well. The players that have the value teams may want them are the same players that Seattle would like to keep here.
How these various avenues combine may free up enough money to add a new DP. Let's just say that Seattle reduces one of the DPs' contract values, and trades away three or four of their top contracts and replaces them with cheaper but still decent talent and there is a DP slot open (they could also reduce a DP and sell another).
Are They Willing To Spend?
Theme two of the presser was about how much the Sounders are willing to spend. Hanauer said that the team is in the top third in revenues, but refused to place the team specifically. He also gave some indicators that the ownership group could free up money to pursue larger names, but in a rational manner.
"Those conversations are ongoing right now, and I think that yes, they are shifting. Again, our business is stable now, it’s been four years and we feel pretty good—obviously we feel great about our support—and we still want to run a rational business, and a business that’s sustainable, but we do think there’s an opportunity to push the envelope a little bit," Hanauer explained. "Again, it doesn’t mean we will, it only means that we’ll make changes that we think are going to make our team better, clearly. We don’t want to spend more money just for the heck of it."
Again, it takes significant reductions of other salary hits in order to add that new DP and maintain the overall quality of the roster. If, IF, they get to make that move will they pursue the huge names like an LA Galaxy or New York Red Bulls? Maybe.
"We want to have a philosophy, believe in that philosophy, maintain that philosophy—certainly question it at the end of every year, maybe even more often than that, we want to make sure we’re still going the right direction…We’re willing to look at anything today that is focused on our current philosophy, that makes us better as the type of team that we want to be, that has us bringing players into this market that are going to fit into the market, that want to be here, because there are many different players and interests…because we’re not LA or New York, we’re just not. We want a certain type of players, but we are willing to and interested in dreaming and continuing to look at players who can be game-changers for us."
Finding someone who fits Seattle and the Sounders as two separate but important aspects is difficult. And yet, high value players that meet one of those criteria and not the other have been connected to the team in the past. The team is trying to continue to expand their earnings in order to empower more of those moves. There will be a new kit sponsor soon.
Every fan wants more from this team. The Sounders want more from this team. They fell short of their goals, which were high. They didn't want one trophy. They wanted several and not a regional cup or a conference title. Sigi Schmid mentioned wanting an MLS Cup, a US Open Cup or Champions League trophy as the goal. Next year they again have a chance at all of those.
It also is increasingly likely that the club will sign its first HomeGrown Player. The presser neared its end with Sigi saying, "I think our Academy program is solid. I think our philosophy in regards to Academy players is that we want to make sure that we see an opportunity for Academy players to play if we're going to sign them. It's a philosophy I've shared with Adrian and he's agreed with me on this is that we feel that for the ultimate player development it's a matter of players getting opportunities to play games. Training alone doesn't do it. The number I read yesterday, it's like 69 players that have signed HomeGrown contracts and there's only 29 still with teams and five of those are really starters.
"When you start looking at that it's like five percent. We want to have a higher percentage than that once we start signing our HomeGrowns. We've got to give them opportunities to play. I feel that our program is solid. We've encouraged some of our HomeGrowns to move onto college as an intermediate step for them and I think as we move forward you're going to see some that are very close and maybe even this is the year that we end up signing one or two."
It is a change year, from the top of the roster down to its tail. The salary cap is a harsh reality in MLS and it is hitting Seattle as hard as it ever has.