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Explaining the Sounders signing of Alvaro Fernandez

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That's our new man, Alvaro Fernandez (right), chumming it up with International Superstar Diego Forlan. Let's hope some of the Uruguayan pixie dust has stayed with El Flaco. (Well, at least it's a clearer picture of him...)
That's our new man, Alvaro Fernandez (right), chumming it up with International Superstar Diego Forlan. Let's hope some of the Uruguayan pixie dust has stayed with El Flaco. (Well, at least it's a clearer picture of him...)

A lot of these issues have been addressed in comments, but figured it would be worthwhile to get as many answers in one place as possible.

The most basic facts are these:

  • Alvaro Fernandez is currently classified as the Sounders' third designated player, but he's not actually on the roster. If he moves to the active roster before Freddie Ljungberg is moved, it would trigger a one-time payment to the league of $250,000 that would be distributed to all the teams without three DPs (and right now that means it will be divvied up among the 15 other teams). 
  • The payment is a one-time fee and is not refundable even if Ljungberg is moved, but would not have to be paid again if the team ever went back to three designated players.
  • Fernandez's status as a DP was almost automatic because the transfer fee that needed to be paid was included in his cap hit (no word on how much money changed hands) along with his salary.
  • The only things keeping Fernandez off the roster right now appears to be receiving his International Transfer Certificate. Once that comes, some kind of move will have to be made to make room for Fernandez. 
  • With Jhon Kennedy Hurtado on the Injured Reserve, there is an open international roster slot so the move just has to create space on the 24-man roster.
  • There was no indication that a Ljungberg move was imminent.

Most of the other issues are more subjective. After talking to various Sounders personnel and taking part in interviews with Sigi Schmid and Adrian Hanauer, here are some of my more speculative thoughts:

  • I got the sense that the team would look to add a third DP if Ljungberg is moved. He gave no indication about who that might be. Going through the tape of the interview, I'm not sure what made me think that, exactly, but I definitely came away thinking this roster is still not set.
  • Hanauer said the team has some "different and creative" ways to create space on the roster. Honestly, I'm at a loss as to what that might mean. 
  • I don't think the team wants to IR guys like Vagenas or Noonan. Whatever fans may think of them, both are players in whom Schmid has put a fair amount of faith. I really don't see Schmid willing to lose their services for six weeks of MLS play if their injuries aren't very serious. Brad Evans is the other player nursing an injury and I don't think he's going anywhere either. The three guys currently on IR are all players who seem to be part of the Sounders' longterm plans.
  • I'm not exactly an expert on roster rules, but I don't see a lot of ways around needing to move someone to make roster space. That could come in the form of a trade -- the midfield is starting to look pretty full -- or it could come by waiving a player. 
  • Schmid and Hanauer seemed pretty bullish on getting Fernandez on the field. I have a hard time seeing how he could be ready to play before the Houston game on Aug. 8. Realistically, it's probably even a stretch to expect him to play in that game.

 

In a more general sense, there was a fair amount of talk about what a move like this means to the league. Specifically, how the recent signings of twenty-somethings Nery Castillo by Chicago and Fernandez seem to indicate a different view of what a designated player can mean to a team.

"I think if we can show ourselves to be a viable league to bring in players like that and they are going to continue to grow and continue to develop," Schmid said. "Obviously if (Fernandez) does well then one day he might move on but then that opens up the door for the next guy to do the same thing. I just think when you get players at that age and at that level it just shows that you are a more viable league, that you are higher up in that pecking order across the world."

Obviously, my bias is to think this is a great sign for the team and league.

A few years ago, it was pretty much impossible for a MLS team to scout a World Cup player, especially one that is just 24, and then hope to sign him. It wasn't even about the league's willingness to pay for a player like that as much as it was players like Fernandez probably considered the league beneath them.

Now, we can talk about developing not just young Americans, but internationals with legitimate resumes. By the end of this season, the Sounders will probably be starting eight players younger than 27 and there's a pretty decent chance that all of those guys could at least start the season with the team next year.

This is an exciting time ... now if we can just figure out a way to win on Saturday.