As we get deeper into the silly season, Sounders fans watch as the team patiently bides its time resolving the issues surrounding the team's roster.
The Sounders have been relatively passive in this year's off-season market. They've made some end of the year cuts and re-signed a couple of key defenders. They traded Jeff Parke to the Philadelphia Union so that he could be closer to home as he starts his new family. They didn't make any selections in either round of the Re-Entry draft. This week they made two unsuccessful attempts to gain young players through weighted lotteries. There are rumors of Honduran players who might be joining the team but nothing is concrete. In the process they have cleared some cap space, but still not enough to be salary cap compliant by all reports.
By comparison, Sporting Kansas City, Toronto FC, New York Red Bulls, Portland Timbers and Philadelphia Union have all been extremely active. Even LA Galaxy is beginning to make moves. They traded up in the Re-Entry draft and picked up Colin Clark and Wil Hesmer. This week they signed Gyasi Zardes to a HGP contract. Zardes is a dangerous forward and was considered by many to be the top prospect in the college game this year. The activity across the league compared to the Sounders is enough to make the Sounder's faithful a bit antsy.
But the Sounders lack of significant moves at this point in the offseason isn't a cause for alarm. It is simply an indication that the team is dealing with a complex dance of possibilities. The Sounders must be cap compliant and field a balanced competitive roster. There are multiple methods they can use to accomplish these feats. But until the dominoes begin to fall, we won't know which path the team will take. Still, some things are becoming clearer.
While there are still opportunities for the team to trade players within the league or cut players from the roster, it becomes increasingly likely that the Sounders are looking to the International Transfer Window to open.
First, the Sounders could potentially be sellers on the International market. They could move or loan a player like Osvaldo Alonso who is currently training with West Ham United of the EPL and garner Allocation Money in the process. They could sell one or more of their DPs in effort to gain AM and/or the DP slot. Even if the move didn't gain the team AM, they could still gain cap space by filling the slot with a Youth DP. They could also elect to move a non-DP such as Adam Johansson and free up cap space. Each of these moves creates a different scenario.
If the team sells Alonso, they would gain the cap space from his salary and a significant windfall of AM. This would enable them to buy down Mauro's contract to a level below DP status as well as bring the team into cap compliance with a significant war chest of AM. They must adjust the roster to his loss, but the team already has a number of players who can play defensive center midfield. They are not Alonso, but they are not weak options either. This scenario gives the team the most options to make large moves in the offseason.
If the team were to loan Alonso for an offseason stint in the EPL, they should garner AM. Ideally this AM would be enough for the team to become cap compliant without any major subtractions. They still might move additional players, but such a loan might enable them to stand reasonably pat during the offseason if they desire. The question then becomes whether standing pat will be enough to be competitive within the changing landscape of the league.
Moving either Fredy Montero or Mauro Rosales is more likely to yield a DP spot than significant cap relief. Neither player is likely to generate huge returns of AM within the league's rules. Anything is possible, but in this case, most scenarios would only yield a small amount of AM at best. As I mentioned above, they could gain cap space by signing a youth DP as a replacement. But the big reason to move these players is to replace them with another DP.
Selling a player like Johansson on the open market gains the team cap space and an International roster spot. At this point, I doubt the team could gain AM in the deal, but they could gain the cap relief and replace him with a less expensive player. Honduran Wilmer Crissanto is an example of a possible replacement.
Most of these moves work toward adjusting the roster and becoming cap compliant in the process. They also clear space on the roster for the team to become buyers in the International market as well as sellers. Making these moves sets up the opportunity for the Sounders to bring in players such as the Honduran National team players that have been rumored to be headed this way and/or a new DP. It is also notable that the Sounders currently have a number of open International spots available. The release of Michael Tetteh and Cordell Cato as well players such as Michael Gspurning earning their Green Cards, means that the Sounders have room to add multiple International players if they choose.
But the International Transfer Window isn't the only domino that potentially could fall in the coming weeks. The Sounders are actively pursuing youth depth for their roster. You don't need to look any farther than their participation in both weighted lotteries this week to see the team's desire. The only significant young defender on the entire roster right now is Andrew Duran. This draft isn't likely to yield immediate dividends, but it could potentially land the Sounders some decent prospects. And the past week has seen some very interesting developments regarding the upcoming draft.
First, this year's Generation Adidas class is beginning to take shape. Multiple sources are reporting that four players have accepted the league's offers. CBs Andrew Farrell and Walker Zimmerman as well as forwards Kekuta Manneh and JJ Johnson will be available in this year's draft. Forward Patrick Mullins has elected to return to Maryland for his senior season. The remaining four players who might be available are MF Mikey Lopez, Forward Deshorn Brown, Forward Eriq Zavaleta and GK Andre Blake. Knowing who is going to be available in the GA class is critical if you are hoping to make a trade to land one of these prospects. The two CB candidates are generally considered to be two of the top three players available in this year's draft. Farrell is landing at the top of most mock draft boards as the most likely to make an impact this year. Zimmerman is more of a project but appears to have a higher ceiling. If the Sounders were looking for a potential Omar Gonzalez type player for the future, Zimmerman appears to be a good candidate.
The other significant developments regarding the draft involve Toronto FC. Toronto acquired the third overall pick from Portland in a trade. They already owned the first overall pick due to finishing with the worst record. They then picked up Danny Califf in the RED and won the weighted lottery for Gale Agbossoumonde, a young American defender. Suddenly the team holds two top draft picks and has less need for a defender.
This year's draft class is generally considered weak. That doesn't mean that the class won't yield solid MLS players. Instead it means that there are fewer can't miss prospects and fewer players available who are likely to make an immediate impact. There are players who Toronto can select, but they may decide that the picks have more value in trade. Toronto is also sitting on AM and the first selection in the Allocation Order. If the International market doesn't work out the way the team hopes, Seattle could opt to clear payroll by trading with Toronto and acquiring draft picks, AM and/or Allocation order. Whether the Sounders can work out a deal with Toronto or not, this type of fluidity is yet another example of how being patient might pay dividends for the team.
There is another reason to be patient regarding the draft. The team is still evaluating the relative skill sets of the players. The Sounders held their annual team combine in Las Vegas recently. They will also attend the league combine from Jan. 11-15. These combines help the team outline their strategy regarding both the SuperDraft on Jan. 17 and the Supplemental Draft shortly thereafter. Even if the team doesn't move up the draft order, most mock drafts and big boards are indicating that the team is liable to have its choice of some of the top senior defenders available this year. Both of the top rated senior CBs, Eric Schoenle and Tommy Muller are likely to be taken at or near the Sounders pick at 16th. While this draft is generally considered weak, it also appears to have a number of potential LB candidates who should start to come off the board near the 16th pick. Taylor Kemp, Jimmy Nealis and Kory Kindle all project near the end of the first round or the start of the second. There are also some other candidates who might be available in the second round or even the supplemental rounds.
Imagine the following scenario. The Sounders make a trade with Toronto and land some AM and one of Toronto's top picks without giving up their first round pick. They use the pick to select Walker Zimmerman and then the 16th pick to land the best LB available. They then sign DeAndre Yedlin to a HGP deal. Suddenly the team has a big little youth pairing at CB in Duran and Zimmmerman as well as two solid youth FBs. Even if they decide to hold off another year bringing Yedlin to the pros, the future of the Sounders defense would look far different than it does today. This deal would not help the Sounders much this season beyond the cap relief, but could bring large rewards in the future.
Regardless of how the Sounders elect to adjust their roster this offseason, the window of opportunity for major moves is just over the horizon. By the end of January we should have a much clearer picture of the team's plans.