Say what you will about the way the Seattle Sounders remade their team on the final day of the of the MLS transfer window, but don't accuse them of being boring.
In the manner of a few hours, they shipped Alvaro Fernandez to the Chicago Fire, announced the signing of Christian Tiffert and all but announced the signing of 22-year-old Mario Martinez, who's currently with the Honduras Olympic team.
The Sounders said they had explored ways to keep all three of their current DPs, but once that was deemed impossible, they were forced to look for other options. The key component ended up being the trade of Fernandez. In addition to the Designated Player roster spot, the Sounders also received the cap relief along with it and a chunk of allocation dollars, while also retaining a percentage of any future transfer fee that Fernandez may bring.
In his place the Sounders now have what seems to be the most complete central midfielders in the league. Assuming everything we've read and heard about Tiffert is true, he brings the kind of playmaking ability that any team wants, while not sacrificing much if anything on the defensive side. MLS has no shortage of players that excel at one or the other, but the number of those who do both are few and far between.
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid gave strong indications that Tiffert will be used almost exclusively as a center mid, despite extensive experience on the wings.
"We felt we wanted someone there with playmaking abilities, which he’s demonstrated in the Bundesliga over the past few years and the seasons before that," Schmid said. "So he’s a player who’s going to be able to play make and run our team with a lot of experience. He’s a guy who’s been captain of his team, so he’ll help us from the leadership standpoint in crucial moments of game as well. We really see him playmaking for our team, ina central position, whether it’s a diamond midfield or if we stay in a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1, he’ll be slotted more centrally for us to help make the game."
As should have been obvious all along, the ability to add someone like Tiffert wasn't going to come without someone else having to be shipped out. That it ended up being Fernandez probably won't come as a surprise, but it's still unfortunate to see him moved within the league just as he seemed to be recapturing the form that allowed him to score 11 goals and register 5 assists in all competitions last year.
"It’s always disappointing when a guy like Alvaro, one of our good teammates and good friends, leaves the team," Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer said. "That was a very, very difficult decision for us to make. He’s fit into the team really well, the guys like him, he’s done very well for us.
"I just wanted to put a stake into the ground and say we’re sorry to see Alvaro go. But it’s pro sports and sometimes, and especially in a league where you have roster limitations and salary limitations and Designated Player limitations, as I’ve said a number of times, at this point in our evolution it’s going to be addition by subtraction and unfortunately for us in this case, it was addition by subtracting Alvaro."
Hopefully alleviating some of the pain in seeing a relatively young player like Fernandez leave is the promise of Martinez. Not only has Martinez shown enough promise to be a starter for Honduras as they've made a run into the Olympics, but he's carved out some significant minutes at Real Espana, while also spending time in the Belgian and Norwegian top divisions. Schmid actually compared him to Brad Davis in terms of his left-footed shot and ability to deliver on set pieces.
There's certainly room to wonder if all of these moves do, in fact, make the Sounders better. If Fernandez makes good on his potential in Chicago or if Tiffert and Martinez struggle to adjust to MLS, there's a possibility this goes down as one of the more unfortunate days in team history. As they said at the time of the Eddie Johnson trade, the Sounders seem to understand that this day will be judged best at the end of the season.
"We’ve made the playoffs three straight years, we’ve won three straight Open Cups, we’ve qualified deep into the Champions League, but we want to win a MLS Cup and advance through MLS playoffs," Hanauer said. "All we can do is try to look forward and try to get better and try to get into a position to win a MLS Cup."