Obafemi Martins' surprising departure has proven at least somewhat costly in the short term. In three competitive matches, the Seattle Sounders have gone winless and no player has been credited with a goal from the run-of-play. It's not hard to imagine those numbers being at least a bit better with Martins on the field.
But whatever shortcomings we've seen, the Sounders are committed to making sure Martins' departure is seen more as an opportunity than a crisis. At least that was the main message Sounders GM and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey was putting forward during Wednesday's session with the media.
"It does give you an opportunity to remake the team, it does, but hopefully that’s in the best interest of the organization," Lagerwey said. "What it changes was a pretty 2016 focus -- like we have to try to win in this window before these guys get any older -- to a little more longterm goal.
"That doesn’t mean we’re not trying to win in 2016, but it allows us to balance our roster from a salary cap perspective, from a position perspective, which should also give us a better chance to win in 2016 but also beyond that. Even if that player or players we bring in aren’t exactly what Obafemi was."
Exactly what kind of player the Sounders are searching for remains to be seen. But Lagerwey dropped a lot of hints as to what his preference would be.
- Lagerwey was forthright with the idea that the Sounders have quite a bit of salary-cap room and money to spend on potential additions: "We have a bunch of cap space anyway and having a little more TAM makes us be able to afford a player who’s worth a little more. There are even some scenarios where we could sign more than two."
- At the same time, the GM didn't seem to be in any rush to spend that money, openly extolling the benefits of waiting until the summer transfer window opens on July 8. "There’s no reason to be reactive or panic about who we’re going to add. We think we have a very good team."
- Throughout the session, Lagerwey kept coming back to the benefits of getting younger: "We’re going to look [for] younger [players]."
- At one point, Lagerwey noted that he was very happy with Andreas Ivanschitz's play, but also expressed some serious concern about a backup plan if the 32-year-old gets injured or simply gets fatigued: "We need to get more creative. Andreas has been doing a great job pushing the ball forward from that advanced position. I worry what we look like if anything happens to Andreas."
- Lagerwey alluded to the idea that he felt Clint Dempsey was being forced to drop too deep into the midfield, depriving the team of his ability around the goal. (Of note, Dempsey has yet to take a shot from the run-of-play in three matches.) "It’s perfectly fine to have him involved in the buildup, but we need him close to goal too."
- Lagerwey even insisted that he's so happy with the starting lineup that a new player might not even be expected to start, but allowed to grow into a role. "We're pretty solid, we don’t have any holes. In that sense, a younger player can be better as well. They can be complementary. They can be part of a rotation of a group of guys around one spot or some duties, like attacking and creating."
Add it all up and this is what I think the Sounders are leaning toward doing:
- They'll add two to three players who all are 25 or younger, with one of them potentially qualifying as a Youth DP.
- If the Sounders are able to find a player worth that tag, they'd probably prefer to add them in the current window as the salary cap benefits aren't as stark in the secondary window. (Youth DPs added in the primary window count $150,000-$200,000 against the cap, while those added in the summer window all count $150,000.)
- You can almost guarantee that at least one of those players will be an attack-minded midfielder, even if it's not someone who fits the typical "CAM" mold.
- None of those players will be obvious short-term upgrades over the current starters, but will have the potential to be.
Given all this flexibility, there's a very real opportunity for Lagerwey to dramatically change the way the roster is constructed. While Martins is an immense talent, Lagerwey is right that having so much of your playing time and salary cap space devoted to players older than 30 is simply not sustainable.
This may not all be happening on the Sounders' preferred timeline, but there's no reason they can't come out better for it.