The Sounders should make a move to sign Javier Hernández in this transfer window.
Signing Chicharito isn’t just about making a (hugely expensive) soccer move, but also about a potential marketing payoff. There are tens of thousands of potential fans whose eyes could turn towards CenturyLink Field, whose TVs could flip to Univision-Seattle or JOEtv, whose radios would find El Rey or KJR. The jersey sales and potential for international presence would be huge. It’s one thing to get every game on in Colombia (as signing Montero/Hurtado earned the Sounders for a few years) or Panama (Torres), but getting matches on in Mexico would be huge.
But this isn’t just a marketing signing to appeal to fans of El Tri and/or Chivas Guadalajara. This isn’t just about boosting the morale of a local fanbase that worries about the magical era being over.
This would be a good soccer move. Hernández is a goal scorer with a history of success in the world’s best leagues and at best teams, who has somehow fallen out of favor with West Ham and was looking for a move to assure that he could get playing time prior to the World Cup.
Why it works
On the field
Seattle needs a forward, desperately. They don’t have any goals in league play and only five total in their seven competitive matches. Chicharito is a classic nine who could play either as a target man or use his speed to break free. In six of his last nine seasons he has 10 or more goals. The three times he fell short were this season, where he only has 16 starts (plus 8 sub appearances) in 31 matches with West Ham United; the 14/15 season he split between Real Madrid and Manchester United; and 13/14 with Man United, when he only started six games. He is a player who excels when he can concentrate on getting into the box at the end of crosses and through balls, rather than being pushed out on the wing. With Seattle there is plenty of service, just not a top-notch finisher.
Over the years Clint Dempsey has shown that he is best when surrounded by greatness. His ability to play off a hold-up forward is unquestionable. Nicolas Lodeiro would be able to provide service via throughball or cross. Wolff, V8 and Roldan would be amplified by such a talent. Schmetzer could continue to utilize the 4-2-3-1, knowing who his ‘1’ is without question. Even breaking out a diamond midfield would work well with either Dempsey or Will Bruin up top.
At 29, Hernandez is older than the typical Lagerwey target, but this concept is not a signal that Seattle is a retirement home. It is instead a symbol that these Seattle Sounders are maximizing the championship window that opened with Demspey’s full integration into the squad in 2014 and will remain open for at least one more year, and maybe a few more. It is not about the future. It is about the now.
Off the field
The Sounders also are in a situation where a significant, if small and vocal, portion of the fanbase is losing spirit. A massive expenditure on high-level talent would quiet that element (as would a series of wins, and both would be best). Setting a transfer fee record would be inspiring. Going all-in behind a World Cup-bound national symbol who represents the best team in CONCACAF and who has a history with the most popular team in the Americas would lift crowds and declare to the locker room that 2018 is this club’s year.
There is also massive potential to market around such a signing. There are 20,000+ empty seats on average. The huge support of Chivas Guadalajara fans during the CCL showed that there are still untapped soccer fans around the Sound and throughout Washington. The team already has Spanish language TV and radio deals, but could expand on those as well, particularly in Eastern Washington, where they know Chicharito is popular and the Sounders have no media coverage except via YouTube TV in Spokane. This is an icon of a nation, the one whose national team is at the World Cup and whose coach knows a few of his top talents are already playing in MLS. The coverage by Fox and Telemundo would have to include Seattle.
Why it doesn’t work
Hernández probably doesn’t want to retreat back to the Americas, yet. Orlando City SC chased him and failed. Los Angeles Football Club chased him and failed. A signing as massive as Chicharito would involve the league office, other teams who probably have him as a Discovery Claim without intent to sign him, agents, and the Mexico National Team. If there’s any hint from the FMF that they won’t select Hernandez with a move like this, it dies.
But he could be available, and he’s one of the rare high-quality players who may be available before the World Cup, a market that President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey indicated was unlikely to bear fruit but that the organization would play in anyway. They are almost certain to target a DP signing in the secondary transfer window rather than the currently open primary window.
How to make it happen
Money. Lots of it. Like xXx4 blockbuster-type money. Or selling off the family pillow business-type money. Or Netflix convincing Drew Carey to bring back the Drew Carey show money. Or Paul Allen caring about soccer money.* To get him now would require a massive transfer fee of 20 million US dollars or more, plus an annual contract around 10 million dollars a year.
The primary transfer window closes on May 1. That’s plenty of time to figure out if a want-away player with a huge price tag could fix this season, amplify the business interests of both the organization and the league, and declare that the ambitions of the Seattle Sounders have not wavered — they still desire to be one of the greatest teams in the hemisphere.
*two of these four money raising things are actually happening/happened.