Much recent conversation on SounderAtHeart has focused on Adrian's big stack of MLS funny money, the #2 allocation pick he has in his pocket, and our 13th and 21st picks in the upcoming MLS SuperDraft. However, the Sounders have quietly accumulated another genuine asset in the wacky world of MLS Roster-building - International Roster Slots.
Per 2013 Roster Rules and Regulations, "A total of 152 international slots are divided among the 19 clubs. Each club began with eight international slots, which are tradeable. There is no limit on the number of international slots on each club’s roster." The Sounders have made trades involving these slots in the past and currently have rights to seven, of which only two are used. The players currently using the slots are:
(Note: As of 1/4/2014, SoundersFC.com lists Shalrie Joseph as a player taking a slot. However, I am certain that this is incorrect based on this: http://www.shalriejoseph.com/2009/08/shalrietv-shalrie-is-sworn-in-at-faneuil-hall-is-a-us-citizen/ and I have notified them of this error.)
Our recent acquisitions (signed and unsigned) have been exclusively US Citizens:
- Clint Dempsey
- Kenny Cooper
- Chad Marshall
- Stefan Frei (dual Swiss/US)
- Tristan Bowen
- Chad Barrett
- Corey Hertzog
It remains to be seen whether both of the players currently occupying our international slots will be back in 2014. Now that the chatter from Turkey/London has died down, Oba Martins seems to be a very good bet to return. Djimi Traore is part of a very crowded pool of centerbacks and it would be very surprising if all of them are still Sounders when March arrives. However, Traore - at a mere $120K in 2013 - is a bargain (compared to Hurtado @ $190K and Ianni @ $150K). If the past five years serve as a good indicator for what is to come in 2014, we can assume that the Sounders' immigration lawyer has already been hard at work on the behalf of each of these two players. It would follow a well established pattern if either or both of them receive green cards before the end of the 2014 season and no longer occupy international roster slots.
What does this mean? It means we have at least FIVE unused roster slots for international players.
We can use these in one of three ways:
We can trade them
There are always - ALWAYS - teams looking for more of these slots. As long as there are middle-aged men playing soccer in Italy, Montreal will be hoarding international slots. Roughly half the teams in the league have only one or two (or zero) open slots. These slots represent flexibility when acquiring players and building a roster. They have real value. One need look no further than #27 Lamar Neagle to understand this value. At the beginning of 2013, it was a unit of this very commodity that allowed us to bring our man home where he belongs. In that case, one international slot equaled 30 apps, 27 starts, 8 goals and 4 assists.
We can sign players from abroad
This may sound obvious. However, if you're one of the teams that has zero available international slots, YOU CAN'T DO THIS. We will almost certainly do this before camp is over (or even half way over). We have done so almost every year since joining MLS. Recent examples are Oba Martins, Djimi Traore, Adam Johansson, Erik Friberg, Micheal Gspurning and Mauro Rosales to name just a handful.
We can find added value in the MLS SuperDraft
This may be less obvious. Every year there are a handful of very good players in the MLS SuperDraft who are not US Citizens. Some are coming directly out of college programs and others (like Jason Banton) sign from abroad and participate in the MLS Combine and SuperDraft. These players regularly fall in the draft simply because they require international roster slots. If you're a team with only one open slot, the cost of drafting a player you may really, really like, but who requires an international slot, may simply be too high. Often, teams simply move on to the next player on their individual "board" and the player slides. We can be there to catch this player, as the cost to us is lower, relatively, due to our big stack of slots. Examples of players on THE SBI 2014 MLS DRAFT BIG BOARD who might fit this mold:
#9 PEDRO RIBEIRO, Coastal Carolina, Central Midfielder - Tall and rangy central midfielder with impressive vision and technical ability, Ribeiro would be higher on the board if he were American, but as all foreign players do, Ribeiro takes a bit of a hit for eventually counting as a foreign player. That still won’t keep him from going in the first round, and he could definitely crack the Top 10.
#20 ROMENA BOWIE, VCU, Central Midfielder - Jamaican midfielder is a quality two-way player who has impressed for the past two years and would be much higher on this list if not for his international status.
A past example is Andy Rose, who only just got his green card during the summer. Rose was drafted by RSL with the 6th pick of the first round of the 2012 Supplemental Draft - essentially an early third round pick - despite being 6'2", athletic, and having come out of a top college program, UCLA.
Adrian Hanauer must be giddy right now. After a couple of years of trying to build a winning hand with few chips left to play, he is sitting behind the big stack. Via a flurry of roster moves and trades this winter, the Sounders have cleared acres of cap space, acquired chests full of allocation sparklies, hold the #2 pick in the Allocation Draft, AND have a nearly-full compliment of international roster slots. When the current eiree silence ends - and it will end soon - expect some exciting Sounders moves. Ready your yachts my friends, this is going to be good.