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Seattle Sounders staff shift from scouting to player negotiations

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The Brain Trust is spending their time in Tukwila and Seattle talking to each other, the coaches and everyone involved in their final targets’ ambitions.

TUKWILA, Wash. — These days, practices at Starfire have Garth Lagerwey, Chris Henderson and Kurt Schmid observing, and chatting with coaches. The Seattle Sounders scouting staff is expected, by fans, to sign a Designated Player, and yet they are in the local area. The work for this transfer window is no longer about scouting talent, or figuring out the psychological fit. Right now, it’s about closing the deal — salary math on the side of the Sounders, the player, their agent, their current team if they have one and maybe even other parties.

“Usually at this period it's about coming back, discussing, talking through, weighing options, which I feel like we are doing all year long anyway. Just because you're always evaluating, you're always thinking about how certain pieces can help your roster,” Chris Henderson shared with Sounder at Heart last Thursday. “But it's good when we’re all together, especially the coaches as well. It gives us a good group to discuss and work things through.”

They’ve made their list. They are checking it twice, probably more times even. There are a handful of players left as potential key additions to the 2017 roster.

“We’ve started to narrow down over the last couple months. It’s started to narrow down a group, so we’ve got it down to a comfortable group of players.”

[I interrupt] Wanna give us a number?

“No, I don’t want to go there because you guys are very smart.”

In MLS, with the Discovery List and other limitations on player acquisition, tipping a hand before the final contract is done could go beyond costing the team more money as negotiations heat up. It could cost the team the player as well.

There is no doubt that the scouting department is playing things closer to the vest than ever before. Kelvin Leerdam joined with no rumor, no warning. It is possible that their next signing, or two may also be a surprise.

They are confident in the research they’ve done. It’s an organization that uses analytics to narrow their targets, video work to further refine the list and live scouting as well. They try to meet the player and understand their mentality towards the game and how it impacts a locker room. But even that part is done.

“I think the character/mental part is already done,” Henderson said.

Some of their potential acquisitions are in training camp at current teams. Those that don’t sign with the Sounders will still need to play with their current team. Those that do sign with the Sounders will need to be fit immediately. Seattle is hovering just under the red line. There cannot be patience for results.

“The good thing is when players are around during preseason they're getting fit, they’re training everyday, sometimes double days, so it's good to have somebody who’s up. You look at Nico last year. He came from Libertadores — big games with Boca — and then came in here and he was fit and flying and I think that's the ideal situation. The situation that isn't good is if the guy gets an injury.”

He doesn’t mention Derlis Gonzalez. Neither do I. I’m thinking about the Dynamo Kiev player anyway.

But now, for Henderson and the leadership above him, and staff below him, it’s about ever fluid roster/cap math and negotiations.

“I think that always seems like the last piece: trying to figure out the best fit for us, the best fit for the player, the agent, the club, whatever the scenario is.”

At the same point, Henderson and Schmid, in particular, are looking at windows further away.

“I'm looking at January. You’ve got to look at what are the options for the next window coming up, what [is] our scouting calendar, what's it going to look like. We need to start scheduling trips and tournaments, so we’re already jumping ahead even though we still keep an eye on what's going on now,” Henderson shared.

Not only are they focusing on players, but they are paying attention to the roster rules of the league, which change about every other year. This young league is constantly tweaking rules.

The goal of the Sounders is to build a roster close to the edge of the current limitations, so that they can maximize the impact of any roster rules expansion.

“It’s always on our mind, and now going to scout, you scout in three different categories of types of players. So it's way more complex than when we first started this and we went and got Montero. Now we have different categories. You don’t know what's going to happen with Re-Entry Draft or players’ contracts; you have to always be a step ahead in your current roster. And then you also have different player categories that come into it, so I think the league keeps evolving and getting better and improving,” Henderson said.

“So from a scouting perspective, I assume more money as the game grows. I assume more money is going to come into the rosters and the budget. So we need to always be thinking can we get right to that, maybe predict what we’re going to be at, and sometimes you’re over, sometimes you’re under, but we want to be just right at that limit.”

Earlier comments this year about adding one player in each band is highly dependent on which (and if a) DP is brought into the squad. If they add such a difference maker, the other player must compliment that talent-set and role, and the team.

“It’s probably 5% of the time we actually land the player. There’s a lot of work going on that doesn’t come to fruition. That’s just part of the game and we want to be in the conversation.”

Negotiations are funky things. Failure happens, and sometimes it helps the team. There is an alternate reality where Seattle signed Prince Tagoe. There’s another alternate reality where the Sounders added Miguel Almiron to their already potent attack.

This transfer window closes August 9, 2017. Sounders FC have an international slot, the ability to add a Designated Player and supposedly more allocation money than all but one team, maybe even the most.

All the work that they can control is done.