Jordan Morris is out for the year and it seems the team is looking to replace him, even if it’s not as fast as some people want. Because of the current roster build, there are quite a few options for how you could do this and it’s worth exploring them in further detail.
Why isn’t the replacement already here?
First, let’s talk about an opinion that many people have: The Seattle Sounders were already thin at striker, and there should have been another player signed during the offseason. I don’t believe this is true, and if you look at it logically, I hope you’ll agree. A Morris, Dempsey, Bruin, Neagle, Adekoya depth chart is pretty good by reasonable MLS standards. The Sounders generally are only going to play one striker, and Dempsey and Morris are both probably above league average when playing that position. Bruin has been a league average striker long enough for us to feel confident he will remain at that level this year. That means you have to drop to the fourth option before you become worse than league average (I’m hoping I don’t upset too many Neagle fans by calling him worse than league average). That’s perfectly fine depth at the position.
Of course, the team would have been better if they replaced Morris with a high-priced DP earlier in the window. This is true for almost every position however. And that hypothetical move is not without downside. Let’s say the team had brought in a DP striker in early February. Then let’s say in the Santa Tecla game Cristian Roldan gets injured. Or Stefan Frei gets injured. Now you’ve already spent your money on a DP and have insane depth at striker, but you’re going to struggle mightily to replace your injured player and don’t have as much TAM/DP flexibility to do so. With a transfer window that remains open until May 1, waiting to see what you need is really the smart play.
Moving up a Dempsey replacement?
The Sounders roster is still in a slightly transitional state. This is likely Dempsey’s last year with the team. Osvaldo Alonso might also be leaving after this year, and if he stays it’s unlikely to be as a DP. That will give the Sounders two DP slots that need filling. It probably made sense to address one of those spots in the Summer. Ideally you could have looked at your needs and brought in the player who replaces either Dempsey or Alonso long term then. The injury to Morris probably just moves the timing of that acquisition up, and means you’re only looking at the Dempsey replacement right now.
That leaves the question of what would a Dempsey replacement look like? Dempsey at times has played as a wide attacker, a CAM, a withdrawn striker, and a center forward. The Sounders could realistically have targeted any of those positions as a Dempsey replacement. The Morris injury complicates this slightly. If your ideal Dempsey replacement was a CAM or a wide attacker, it might not make sense to move that signing up. That’s the one spot on the field where the Sounders already have a lot of depth. That kind of signing would allow Dempsey to play as a center forward, but I’m not sure that’s the best use of resources.
If you were planning on replacing Dempsey with a more traditional striker, things become easy. You just move up the timeline on that signing. You either pay slightly more to get it done by May or you move on to other options that are available now (this is easier to type than it actually is to do). This would allow you weather the Morris injury now, and set you up well for the post Dempsey future.
Trying to identify these kinds of players ourselves is hard, because they could be literally anyone. Chris Henderson’s recent scouting trips don’t tell us much, because they were scouting without knowing about Morris’ injury. However, finding players that fit the general profile is easy.
Possible options: Bobby Wood, Eduardo Vargas, Adboulay Diaby, and Ramon Abila.
What if the Sounders were adamant that the long-term Dempsey replacement was going to be a more traditional CAM or wide attacker? If this is the case, making a long term commitment to a striker now isn’t something you’d want to do. What kind of options do you have?
Your first option is to find someone who could be purchased on a short-term deal. Someone with a contract that is expiring soon, who would be willing to sign a two-year deal to move a few months early. Hopefully they play for a team with not much left to play for so the team has no real desire to play hardball. You’d be basically looking at guys who are 27-32, have a contract expiring in 2018, and are worth less than $6M or so. The downside to this is that depending on the cost/salary, you might be pushing a Dempsey replacement back another year.
It’s a little easier to identify possibilities here, but the pool is still massive. The kind of player you’d expect with this option is someone like Giuseppe Rossi, Marco Ruben, Andre-Pierre Gignac, Nils Petersen, or Nyasha Mushekwi.
A second option would be to look for a loan. If you can find a striker willing to come on loan for the year, this might be the best option. Of course finding a loan player and getting the deal done is much easier to write about than accomplish.
Possible options: The pool of loan players is huge, but China is the obvious place to look. Jackson Martinez is one player that might work. But if you’re willing to look outside of China, South America probably has a list of candidates a mile long.
It isn’t out of the question to think that Seattle could be successful with Dempsey and Bruin as the first two options up top. Seattle played very well the last two-thirds of last season, much of that time was without Morris, and Morris wasn’t particularly productive when he did play in that stretch. While Dempsey up top might not be his favorite position, he might be the best at it on the team; and with a little time to prepare that could very well be the best setup. If the team is comfortable with Bruin and Dempsey as the first two options, they’d need to add depth. The don’t need a world beater, but someone equivalent to in-his-prime Lamar Neagle would give more depth to the position and also allow for a change of pace in style of play. This team probably isn’t challenging for a Supporters’ Shield in the first half of the season, but also shouldn’t fall so far behind that a good second half run isn’t enough to vault them close to the top of the table.
This will be the least popular solution. There will be cries of “Garth doesn’t care about the Shield.” Or the team is cheap. But there really is a good case to be made that this is a fine path to take. If the team has made a depth signing at forward, they’re good enough to be in a decent position when the Summer window starts. They can then assess what the team really needs to make another end-of-year run. Perhaps Dempsey and Bruin are proving more than adequate. Maybe the depth guy took a leap forward. Maybe Adekoya has figured things out. It might very well be that you feel OK at forward and could use the window to bring in another CDM or a winger, or address some other need that has come up.
Possible options: Seeing what Houston wants for someone like Andrew Wenger or seeing if Terrence Boyd is interested in trying to revive his career in MLS.
What’s the right solution?
I can easily make the case that any of the three scenarios is the right move. If I were running the team though, what would I do? If you have a well scouted list of striker targets, that’s where I’d be focusing. Trying to get something done by May if possible. However, these aren’t the kind of players Seattle has been linked to, so it’s questionable if they’d be able to pivot fast enough to get something done.
The loan deal is probably the safest option and with Chinese clubs always looking to off load players, it isn’t something that would be out of the question. If you can get this done, this keeps flexibility going forward but allows you to weather the Morris injury. While I think this is probably the best move, it’s also the hardest to pull off.
The pragmatic solution might simply to go after some depth now. If you were willing to go into the season with Morris being the starter and Dempsey and Bruin around to take over if Morris put in another performance like 2017, things really haven’t changed much with Morris’ absence. Your plan all along was to see how Morris did and reserve the right to make a signing once you had more information. You’re really just doing the same thing now, but with some combination of Dempsey and Bruin up top. When the summer window rolls around you might say that they’ve been great up top and getting another player for the attacking band is a bigger priority. If they struggle, you can easily find someone to plug in up top. Unless you think a team without Morris simply can’t be in playoff contention by the summer, this is probably the safest play. The hardest thing maybe trying to find that depth piece without giving up too much to acquire it.
For all the consternation about the state of the roster, it’s important to realize that it’s still pretty good. We’re talking about Harry Shipp being your fourth or fifth attacking midfield option. Will Bruin being your second option at striker. Ozzie Alonso possibly being your third choice central midfielder. Kim Kee-Hee being your third center back. That’s not a roster I’d call weak. Garth has done a pretty good job of building a roster, and because of that has options on what to do next. The team doesn’t need to make a panic buy now. They definitely need to sign someone, but even if it’s a depth piece; they are still in a decent position going forward.