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Garth Lagerwey must either double-down on winning now or continue the rebuild

This transfer window could be a turning point.

Photo credit - MikeRussellFoto

In 2016 the Seattle Sounders won MLS Cup. Oddly enough, this was probably during a major rebuild. Not only did the core roster dramatically change from the start of ‘16 to the start of ‘17, so did the ancillary parts of the roster. President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey took a roster with many post-peak players and dropped it down to just a few, and all of those are core to success.

Peak is harder to define in soccer than American sports, likely due to the lack of a unified number that assesses player value, and because roles wider and further up the field rely more on young physical features, while keepers and centerbacks get by counting on their tactical mind. But there are a few studies that look at the subject of peak. It is generally around 26 years old with a couple years on each side.

Looking at the Sounders with minor adjustments for the keeper and centerbacks, the DPs and TAM players are evenly split between post-peak and peak ages with a couple young talents that are key to success (Roldan, Morris, maybe Nouhou) and Chad Marshall - who isn’t a DP or TAM player, but vital to how the Sounders play.

Simple age categories

Post-peak 31+ Peak 26-30 Pre-Peak 23-26 Developing <23
Post-peak 31+ Peak 26-30 Pre-Peak 23-26 Developing <23
Dempsey (DP) Frei Alfaro Adekoya
Marshall Svensson Delem Roldan
Alonso (DP) Meredith Kovar Wingo
Torres (TAM) Lodeiro (DP) Mathers Nouhou
Rodriguez (TAM) Morris Bwana
Leerdam (TAM)
Dave Clark

The lean is old. It’s a team that twice made MLS Cup, and several key players likely have less than two years of play at their current level left, at best. It is still a team that can go back to MLS Cup, even after losing a starter.

Lagerwey is at a turning point. Last summer it appeared he was going to extend his championship window as he pursued Derlis Gonzalez. That pursuit ended up failing. The other additions amplified the emphasis on peak.

This transfer window is an opportunity to either continue to amplify the elements in their peak age group, or add more youth that may/may-not work out. It’s a tough call.

  • Amplifying peak makes it a more likely, in an unknowable amount, that the Seattle Sounders push for multiple trophies for a year or two more. They would then have to blow up the squad similar to after ‘13 and ‘16.
  • Adding young talent makes it more likely, in an unknowable amount, that the team extends its championship window and prepares for the post-Clint Dempsey era. This would lead to a slow, constant churn.

MLS isn’t yet at the point where teams can effectively do both. That requires budgets and roster flexibility well beyond what the nascent league offers.

Even as the league changes the budget process to allow teams to straddle the line, there still remains a choice — you can have peak players pushing for trophies or a youth rebuild, but not both. How this window turns out will set the stage for the rest of the Dempsey era - either the chase for a third straight MLS Cup appearance, or for Lagerwey to target a less knowable future.

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