Five unsigned draftees and trialists who started training camp with the Sounders this year have survived the first round of cuts. Draft picks Jimmy Ockford and Fabio Pereira are still with the team. Trialists Michael Azira, Kevin Parsemain and Miguel Gonzalez have also stuck with the team for now. Djenan Catic, Stefano Rijssel, Tarek Morad, Jason Morrison and Long Tan were released.
Late last week the team brought Gonzalo Pineda and John Arroyo into camp. Both remain with the squad. This week Omar Browne and Danny O'Rourke have joined the team as well.
Sigi Schmid spoke to the media on Wednesday and indicated that the competition for roster spots 24-30 is fierce and that the team has not decided if it will carry 28, 29 or 30 players. He also mentioned that one of the team's established players found himself on the 3rd string team in Arizona and his effort noticeably improved. This appears to be a remark directed squarely at Alex Caskey, though David Estrada also played in that final match. Sigi further said that the team may need to get creative with figuring out how to use specific players or they might find themselves "disappointed". He went on to say that both this season and the long term development of the team will factor into the roster decisions. This appears to indicate that more slots are in play than were previously thought and that certain established players like Caskey and Estrada are fighting for their positions along with the trialists and unsigned draft choices. This may be nothing more than a training camp motivational tactic, but it also speaks to the level of competition this year.
Each MLS roster contains 10 off-cap players and 18-20 on-cap players. Teams may elect to limit themselves to only 18 on-cap slots and divide the cap between them or they may spend that same money over up to 20 slots. The Sounders have seen the value of having a deep bench over their MLS history, but this doesn't mean that they will decide to have 30 players on their roster this season. If the team elects to only have 18 on-cap players, then the competition becomes even that more intense.
Currently the team has 28 players under contract including Shalrie Joseph. All indications are that the team will use their buyout option on Shalrie this season. If all of the remaining 27 players currently under contract make the squad, then there are only 1-3 slots open. But Sigi's comment about slot 24 appears to indicate that as many as three of the current contract players are fighting for their jobs. In other words players like Will Bates, Caskey and Estrada are under the Sword of Damacles particularly if the team opts to go with a shorter bench.
Remember that Generation Adidas players such as Damien Lowe and Eriq Zavaleta as well as two of the team's HGPs (likely Sean Okoli and Aaron Kovar) are automatically part of the 10 off-cap positions and will not factor into these decisions. Players with guaranteed contracts are also not going to be under the knife once Shalrie's contract is purchased. They may be traded, but the team will gain no cap relief by cutting them. So the players finishing up their existing contract must prove themselves to be valuable to the team's plans moving forward. They either need to prove their worth for this season or their long term potential.
On a global scale this level of competition is good for the Sounders. It means that the team is likely to have a very balanced roster and that the overall skill level across that roster continues to grow. The team made a concerted effort to get younger and more athletic in defense and this effort has been a prominent feature of this preseason. But on an individual scale, this level of competition is going to mean that some players are not going to make the roster. Camp continues and the band plays on. The question now will be who finds a seat when the music stops?