EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally published on Feb. 17. In light of Garth Lagerwey's recent comments, we figured it was just as relevant now as it was then. Enjoy.
In a similar vein to what Sounder at Heart did last year when the new rules concerning Targeted Allocation Money and Designated Players were announced, we decided to poll our staff again on who they would like to see fill the DP roster spot left open by Obafemi Martins' departure to China.
Last year's poll was mostly limited to "dream" DP signings, many of them pretty unrealistic. This time around we tried to get both a dream signing and a more realistic signing from each contributor, to keep things interesting. Nelson Haedo Valdez, who filled the open DP spot last year after the Sounders used the newly open TAM to buy down Osvaldo Alonso's contract.
The difference between "dream" and "realistic" signings is pretty subjective, but we thought it would be especially interesting to see the juxtaposition between the two categories and how it varies from each contributor. Let us know how wrong we are in the comments.
Dream DP signing: Paul Pogba
Realistic DP signing: Riccardo Montolivo
Paul Pogba isn’t the best player in the world - he’s not even the best central midfielder in the world - but you could make a pretty compelling case that he’s the most valuable player in the world. Not necessarily in a financial sense (although there aren’t many players whose value isn’t purely theoretical that would command a higher fee) but if you were to build a new team from scratch it’s difficult to think of a better player to start with than a 22-year-old two-way central midfielder that has achieved so much with elite teams at both the international and club levels. He’s also a whole lot of fun, which is undeniably a factor when you’re just dreaming.
Riccardo Montolivo certainly isn’t as exciting as Pogba, but in terms of players the Sounders may have a real shot at signing he ticks all of the right boxes. A deep-lying playmaker that’s strong in the defensive phase and possesses a wicked long-range shot, Montolivo would provide a massive upgrade for the Sounders and can fill any role in the center of midfield. At 31 he’s young enough to expect several solid years of production, but he’s accomplished enough in his career that a big-money move abroad could be appealing. With his contract set to end in the summer the Sounders would be forced to wait until the secondary window, but the upside of the move is high enough that the downside is worth enduring.
Dream DP signing: Lewis Holtby
Realistic DP signing: Emerson Hyndman
Lewis Holtby is everything the Sounders need in midfield. He’s young, he has speed, he’s creative, he can defend. He does the things Eric Friberg does, but turns them all turned up to 11. And can you even imagine the fun Likkit would have working with things like this? But Holtby is beyond unrealistic. You might be able to pry him from Hamburg for $15-$20M, but not until their season ends. Even then, he’ll require a contract of a huge contract. It would very likely be a $50M investment in Holtby. That’s the kind of money that’s only coming from China right now.
I’m hardly impartial, because I’ve been following him since his career since he was 15, but the realistic player I’d love to join the Sounders is Emerson Hyndman. You might not know him at all, so here’s the TL;DR bio.
Emerson is the grandson of ex-FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman. He grew up around FC Dallas and spent a year in their academy. He joined Fulham in 2011 and was part of the U18 squad that won the league in 2011/12 and made the FA Youth Cup final 2013/14. He has played at all levels for the US National teams. Over the last two seasons, he’s made 15 appearances with Fulham’s first team and won’t turn 20 until April. Highlights of a CM like that aren’t always the most telling, but you can see some of them here, here, here, here, and here.
Of all the central midfielders in the world, why Emerson? First, there has been much debate over whether it’s better to spread the DP cap hit over multiple players or just spend it all on one. A youth DP lets you do both. He would hit the cap at $150K this year and $200K next year. That leaves over $300K of cap space to sign another player. Second, Hyndman is American. He grew up here. He knows MLS. He’s played on teams with Jordan Morris and trained with Roldan. He also knows that playing in MLS won’t preclude him from getting national team calls. Third, his contract with Fulham is up in June. He’s made it clear that he’s leaving. Fulham are likely to accept a bid for him as he’s not really needed there. He’s also inexpensive, as he only made about $300K this season. If you offer Fulham over $1M in fees, and offer him a contract that guarantees him about $2.3M; it might just get done.
Dream DP signing: Paul Pogba
Realistic DP signing: An undervalued Central Mid playing in South America.
Paul Pogba is the dream signing, it is not happening so let’s move on to finding the next best thing that we can actually sign. My goals are to find a central midfielder that brings a dynamism to the midfield that is missing with the current trio, someone who covers a ton of ground both going forward and defensively.
Ideally to maximize value I am looking for a 22-26 year old currently playing in South America. Argentina, Colombia or Brazil is where I would be looking. Preferably someone on the outside of their national team in order to minimize time away from the Sounders and potential injuries with the national team.
While I do not have the specific resources to scout these leagues, two players quickly came through in my searches and I will highlight those two as examples of a realistic DP signing. Héctor Miguel Canteros, currently at Flamengo in Brazil, is 26 years old and in the last year of his contract. My second option is Rodrigo Battaglia. Battaglia is 22 years old and playing at Rosario Central in Argentina. Battaglia is on loan from Braga in Portugal and might be looking for a more stable environment that MLS and the Sounders can supply after experiencing the Braga loan spin cycle since moving there in 2014.
Dream DP signing: Mohamed Salah
Realistic DP signing: Ali Adnan
Salah is playing well in Serie A with AS Roma, but is a Chelsea player who was also loaned to Fiorentina. He’s a goal-scoring winger, the leader of the Egyptian National Team and totally out of the Sounders price range. So my desires for an Arab player on my hometown squad will target a different Serie A player.
Ali Adnan is an Iraqi left back who burst onto the soccer scene with a strong performance in the 2013 U-20 World Cup. Since then he’s found his way to Udinese by way of Rizespor. The goal scoring left back is a set-piece wizard and still qualifies as a Young DP. While Seattle is settled at the position with the acquisition of Joevin Jones, the ability to improve their cap situation and have an international caliber 22-year-old suits my fancy.
Dream DP Signing: Saul (Atletico Madrid) because Pogba is taken.
Realistic DP Signing: Sebastian Martinez (Chile)
Sebastian Martinez is one of those guys you find playing FIFA, buy cheap, and then watch him grow. In real life it won't be that easy but the Chilean CDM is only 22, turns 23 in June. We know Garth likes going to South America for his players. Martinez plays the role similar to Ozzie but a better passer and can get involved in the attack seamlessly. He's a perfect pick to be the bottom of a triangle or the base of a 4-5-1. He'd probably be a 2-2.5 million transfer fee.
Martinez would be an immediate upgrade in the center of the park and would be a perfect partner for Friberg and Ivanschtiz being able to take on the defense responsibilities to let them attack with near reckless abandonment. He's not too fast going full sprint but he won't get hurt by counters. Everything about it makes sense but Universidad De Chile likely doesn't want to sell a guy who went through their youth academy and is on pace to be a Chile legend.
Take all those things about Martinez and multiple it 3-4 times. Saul is a great CM and can be a CDM or box-to-box. Trouble is, he's the future at Atletico Madrid and is slowly taking over the midfield for Gabi and with a potential transfer ban, Atletico isn't going to sell the 21 year old. If they did expect 15-20 million (USD) for the fee. He could be the future here and would run the midfield like 3 prime Ozzie’s but I think this is just a pipe dream.
Dream DP signing: Zlatan
Realistic DP signing: Zlatan
Dream DP signing: Ross Barkley
Realistic DP signing: Franco Zuculini
Why do I want the Sounders to sign Zuculini? Let me count the ways … First, the Argentine’s hair game is strong. He’s also in a band, which makes Seattle a perfect location for the 25-year old. Oh, did you catch Zuculini’s age? At 25, he still has plenty of quality years left. I want a young DP midfielder, darnit. The speedy central midfielder, whose contract is up this summer, has seemingly limitless energy—and he’s a great dribbler and passer. Zuculini, who plays for Bologna FC in Italy’s Serie A, can play either an attacking or holding mid, as he’s really strong defensively and, like Ozzie, isn’t afraid to go in for a hard tackle or two.
So why wouldn’t the Sounders go after him? Zuculini just recently recovered from MCL surgery, marking the second time he’s had this injury. However, Zuculini was one of the most promising young talents from Argentina, getting a national team call-up at just 18, and he is still young enough to make a name for himself in MLS. Plus, if Franco doesn’t work, the Sounders could find a few more pennies under the couch and sign his 22-year-old brother Bruno, who is currently on loan to AEK Athens from Manchester City.
Dream DP signing: Cesc Fabregas
Realistic DP signing: Pablo Hernandez
Going against my heart's desire to name a dream signing like Fernando Torres or Luis Suarez, I wanted to go with a player at the very top of the areas in which the Sounders need to strengthen. Seattle lacks depth in most areas of midfield, and one bad injury could mean starting a rookie or shoehorning in a player from a different position in a key match. Fabregas, formerly of Arsenal and Barcelona and now at Chelsea, is comfortable pretty much anywhere in central midfield, and can even play as a striker if such an emergency calls for it. The Spaniard can pretty much do it all, from passing to shooting to tackling, and against the right opponent can boss the midfield entirely on his own. He's a class above pretty much every midfielder in MLS, and would elevate the play of the players around him.
I went with a player with a similar, albeit much lower quality, skill set for my realistic suggestion. Hernandez's age could make it harder to get him to MLS, but TransferMarkt puts his price tag at around 3 million euros and his salary could probably be matched fairly well as a Designated Player for Seattle. He's been solid at central midfield for Celta Vigo this season, even though he's often seen as more of an attacking player. This means that, like Fabregas, Hernandez is able to play a variety of midfield roles when called upon. I think it's fair to say that he is an upgraded version of Osvaldo Alonso, and could either play alongside Alonso or replace him when the time comes.