Wednesday night will be a bittersweet send off for Roger Levesque. The Sounder's own version of a SeaFair Pirate is retiring after the Chelsea match. Roger epitomizes the heart of this team and he will be missed. But as we reflect on his departure, it is also true that his retirement is an adjustment to the Sounders roster. Coupled with this morning's reports concerning Alvaro Fernandez's potentialloan to Deportivo Cali and the Sounders appear poised to make a serious move.
The Summer Transfer window for MLS teams to bring in players from outside of the league closes on 27 July 2012. With little more than a week to that date, the time to make a move is dwindling rapidly. Roger's retirement and Christian Sivebaek's departure have opened up two roster spaces, an International slot and roughly $150,000 of salary space. ($75,000 if we pro rate it for half a season, but I find it easier to think about player salaries in terms of a 'full' year of pay. This makes it easier to consider the caliber of player available.) For this discussion I am also assuming that Babayele Sodade is placed on the MLS injured list and that Daniel Steres effectively took his off cap roster spot.
These team moves set up the potential for the team to make a move or two by themselves. The timing of Roger's retirement in particular has the appearance of a preparatory step. Roger is such a professional that I can easily see him trying to help the team by retiring before the transfer window closes. These two moves alone give the team options.
1. They can combine the two roster spots and bring in a single player at a prorated ~$150K per year salary. This player can be an international. The Sounders roster going into these moves sat at 30 players. They are only required to carry 28. Compressing the slots may also result in the team gaining allocation money but for the purposes of this discussion I am going to take a conservative approach and assume that it does not.
2. They can bring in two players, one domestic and one foreign for a total combined prorated salary of $150K.
These moves require no additional roster adjustments to the current Sounders roster. But they are not the only possibilities. The Sounder's Front Office can decide to make a major move by transferring away one of the current Designated Players (for example loaning Flaco to Deportivo Cali) and bringing in a different Designated Player. They could also decide to trade a player or players within the league. Which brings us to the seminal question. Should they make a move?Any team can be improved. This is particularly true of teams within the MLS where the salary cap restrictions require the teams to make roster compromises. The Sounders are not any different in this regard.
The unvarnished truth is that the 2012 Sounders are a good MLS team. On any given night they can compete with the best teams in the league. They have tied RSL, DC United, Sporting KC, Vancouver and the NY Red Bulls. They have beaten San Jose in USOC play. But they have also lost to San Jose and RSL. If the team gets hot, gels and stays healthy, the current line up could win the MLS Cup. But there are no guarantees. It will be a wild ride if the team stands pat.
The coaching staff made a key discovery during the San Jose USOC game. They moved Brad Evans out of the starting spot in the central midfield and began using him in Roger Levesque's ForMidFender role along the right side. This gives the team more flexibility in how they use all of the pieces on the roster. Mauro can move into the Withdrawn Forward role and orchestrate the offense more than Fredy does. Brad then slots into the right midfield and supports Adam Johansson defensively. The result has been a more fluid dynamic in the offense and increased production from all of three of the players. It gives the Sounders a chance to keep these players healthy and fresh. It has also made the Sounders far less predictable. The offense now comes at the opponents from multiple angles and not just from the right hand side. The Sounders still have the option to slot Fredy into the Trequartista role with Mauro on the flank if tactically warranted, but having options makes them more dangerous.
Brad also offers the team a third option at Right Back that bridges the gap between Adam Johansson and Zach Scott. This allows them to spell Adam and use Zach in the Center Back rotation. Defense wins championships and using Brad here is helping the team's defensive structure. Brad can of course still play in the Central Midfield as well. But he has looked more involved and dangerous this year on the wing. The MLS Salary Cap requires creative flexibility and using Brad Evans in multiple roles gives the team the opportunity to focus on other areas.
Which leads to the question of where can the team improve if they do make a trade? I see three positions that the team could improve.
1. Full Back- Leo Gonzalez and Marc Burch have done an admirable job. They are average MLS Full Backs. But Left Back is an area where the team could improve. The team could also look for back up Right Back, but with the retasking of Brad Evans, this becomes less critical.
2. Central Midfield- Again Andy Rose and Brad Evans are doing yeoman's work. But if the team can land a true Regista such as Christian Tiffert, this would increase their potential as a championship caliber team. Unfortunately, this would probably require the team to move a DP. If Flaco is indeed moved, then the team will need to potentially find another Wing. This is particularly true because both Sivebaek and Levesque represented depth at the wide midfield. The team does have options on it's current roster. David Estrada, Alex Caskey, Steve Zakuani, Brad Evans, Marc Burch, Cordell Cato and Michael Tetteh can all potentially play a wing position. Obviously not all of these are viable first string options. But the team does have depth at the position even without Flaco. Still, if they pull the trigger on the Flaco loan and bring in Tiffert, I expect them to shop for another wing. The nice thing about swapping Tiffert for Flaco is that they would still have the money left from the departure of Sivebaek and Levesque to work with. The big question will be an international slot.
3. Center Back- The Sounders have a solid group of Center Backs. But none of their CBs fits the classic beast mold. I think this is the least likely area to be changed, but if the right player becomes available, it is an area that the Sounders could reinforce.
Soccer rosters, like the game itself,are dynamic things. One move creates a domino effect. Eddie Johnson's addition to the roster is an elegant example of this principle. His production is outstanding. But the team is still looking for a way to get both Eddie and Fredy on the field at the same time firing on all cylinders. Any changes to the roster may cause similar problems.
International slots are another potential issue. Currently the team lists 4 International players on their roster: Michael Gspurning, Adam Johansson, Cordell Cato and Michael Tetteh. All three of the current DP's have their Green Cards. I am not certain of the status of Andy Rose. The team appears to have room for International players, but how many is a very relevant question. If they can only bring in one more, that is a very different question than if they can add two or three. Moving a DP suddenly becomes a balance of international slots as well as skills and finance.
And we come full circle. Should the team make a move? Yes. At the very least they should leverage the opportunity created by the departures of Christian Sivebaek and Roger Levesque. Not utilizing $150K of cap space would be inappropriate for a team hoping to contend for multiple trophies. At the very least another Full Back and/or another Wing would make sense. Of if they can find the right CB, that is another option. There are deals to be had using the money they have freed up. I would personally like to see the team shore up the Full Back position. If they can find someone to compliment Adam Johansson, they should.
Should they move a DP is a much more slippery question. If they can land the right Regista, then I would say yes. I like Christian Tiffert and I think that the circumstances surrounding his current situation make him a good fit for this team. I like Flaco and have been impressed by his recent play. But if the team can land a dynamic playmaker (or say Joan Verdu) who can help feed Fredy and Eddie from the middle of the pitch along with the service that Mauro provides from the wings, then the gamble of moving Flaco is justified. They will need to find another wing. But I like the move.
Whatever the team decides, I think it is fair to say that all signs are pointing to FO working hard to make something happen.