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Sounders should target Joel Campbell for the striker role

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It’s cheaper the Chicharito, but almost as complicated

2016 MLS All-Star Game: Arsenal v MLS All-Stars Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Seattle needs another striker - or at least a warm body with speed - that can play up there and find the net more times than he finds the Hawk’s Nest. If spending every dollar we can find on a player isn’t your cup of tea (see the Chicharito idea), then we need but look across London for a player. Joel Campbell needs a new club, and Seattle is just the place to help the 25 year old Costa Rican.

Campbell’s transfer to Arsenal never worked out, and he’s bounced around clubs on loan since he transferred from Saprissa in the summer of 2011. He’s spent a little over a full season on Arsenal’s roster between a couple January loans, but for the most part he’s played his entire European career outside of England. Now, his contract is due to expire in June; could Campbell and the Sounders be a match?

Why it works

On the field

Seattle’s need for a striker is the worst kept secret in MLS. Without Jordan Morris there is a lack of speed and flexibility at the number nine spot. Campbell has played most of his career splitting time as an attacking winger and a striker. His best quality is his pace, and he would be able to make the same runs into channels and get crosses off as Jordan would have.

While Campbell isn’t going to be the best hold-up striker, Seattle does not need one. Will Bruin and Jordan Morris rarely play the Fanendo Adi old-school nine style, and there is no reason Campbell needs to do that. In order to make the offense tick, Dempsey, V8R, Wolff, and Lodeiro need space to operate and with no threat of speed that space is condensed by a high defensive line. Campbell, meanwhile, can make inside-out runs into the corners on through balls, or just get behind the last defender on balls over the top, creating space for the attacking band below him. He isn’t a world-class finisher like Chicharito, but he is an above-average finisher and will create goals and space for himself and others.

Costa Rica is a World Cup team, and with Campbell getting limited minutes at Real Betis he needs a place to get ready for the World Cup. If he signs prior to it and does very well, there is no World Cup bump in his price. Costa Rica calls up a considerable number of MLS players and a transfer to Seattle would not jeopardize a roster spot for the 2018 squad.

Off the field

This is not a slam-dunk marketing idea like Chicharito is, but there are still similar benefits. Seattle gets one of the top players at a Cinderella World Cup team that was the darlings of the ball in 2014 when they won their group of Uruguay, Italy, and England. They are in a manageable group with Serbia, Switzerland and Brazil. As a CONCACAF side, they should get plenty of coverage and Seattle gets coverage in the reason. It isn’t Mexican National Team bid, but it is a jump from current.

Why it doesn’t work

In one word: injuries. Campbell has played limited minutes this season for Real Betis because he picked up an ankle injury in October and was out of training until mid-January. He started making the bench again at the beginning of March and played his first minutes - an 82nd minute sub - on April 2nd. Before his injury he was just a sub for them, so it isn’t clear whether they were managing minutes or he just isn’t a big part of the roster. Campbell also had off-season knee surgery. if Seattle is afraid of players that may have durability issues (and given recent history this is a highly relevant consideration), Campbell’s recent history could be a red flag. If you look at his entire career, however, he has rarely been injured; it is a concern, but it should be a minor one.

When he left Saprissa, Campbell was going to be a big youth-signing for Arsenal. It never worked. First he was denied a work permit and required a loan out, and after that Arsene Wenger never integrated him into the squad long-term (Wenger hasn’t exactly been pushing all the right buttons the last few years though, so...). He seems to be enjoying his time at Real Betis, a club he has been loaned to twice, and may want to permanently sign with them over the summer. At 25, he also may feel he still has plenty left to give and that coming to MLS is giving up on a European dream.

How to make it happen

There are two scenarios that could make this happen, and they dramatically alter the timeline of signing Campbell.

Joining on a free

This is the easy scenario: he signs a pre-contract now and joins the club when the window opens in the summer. There is no negotiation to be had with Real Betis or Arsenal, only with the player. His contract now appears to be about £1.5m ($2.1m) a year, which would be over the TAM limit. Due to his lack of playing time and down performance from when that was signed, Campbell could possibly be had at the max TAM contract of $1.5m. No transfer fee also gives means it can stay a TAM contract instead of becoming a DP.

The downside to this solution is that Campbell would not join till the window opens on July 10th, after the World Cup. Seattle needs help now. Waiting till summer isn’t a death blow, but they’d need to find interim help.

Joining before May 1

This option requires getting not one but two clubs to release Campbell from his contract, preferably for no money. So same as above, you need to get a contract with Campbell agreed to and for flexibility purposes at TAM levels. Once they agree with Campbell, they need to get Real Betis to end his loan from Arsenal. Arsenal would then need to agree to release him from his contract and leave early for Seattle. May 1st is the close of the MLS window, meaning they have three weeks to get this done.

Getting Real Betis to cancel the loan is the toughest part, Arsenal have all but stated they have zero interest in retaining the Costa Rican and want to get him off their books. Campbell, with a new contract in tow, would likely lead to them not having to pay any buyout to him. So that portion of the deal is easy. Will Real Betis end the loan? That isn’t as clear, the club was rumored to want to cancel it in January during the window but never did. Since his return to training, he’s made the bench three times but has played a total of seven minutes. Maybe they are using this as an audition for a permanent contract in the summer, but the fact it is April and he doesn’t have one yet may mean they are not interested. Betis has climbed into a Euro League spot without playing Campbell and could deem him superfluous and let him return to Arsenal and on to Seattle.

Signing Campbell before the end of the window would take all the negotiation skill and time of a high a priced DP, but potentially without a significant portion of the cost. He would immediately help Seattle’s lineup and offers flexibility to both the striker and winger roles (mainly the left side) should Seattle decide to sign a DP striker in the summer as well.