Transfer windows can be funny. At least in the immediate aftermath, the perceived level of success is often measured by deals done close to the deadline. The teams that push through deals at the last minute or have a flurry of activity are often tipped as the winners, while teams who got their business done early or didn’t make many moves are often overlooked.
Of course, this is not a particularly good way of looking at transfer windows. Any team with an expectation of being competitive doesn’t have a ton of holes to fill and it’s rare that the best deals will be found at the last minute.
Depending on how you choose to look at the Seattle Sounders’ recent activity, it was either prudent or underwhelming. On one hand, they addressed two significant areas of needs while adding a player GM Garth Lagerwey called a “franchise cornerstone.” From another perspective, it felt like it barely reached the minimum expectation as the promised TAM signing — Australian Brad Smith — is a rather significant unknown.
The reality, as usual, is this window’s success will be measured in results. If Raúl Ruidíaz can revive the offense and push the Sounders’ into the playoffs, everything else can likely be overlooked. If Ruidíaz doesn’t quite settle in and the Sounders’ season ends early, there will be room for lots of second-guessing.
Lagerwey, as you might imagine, was at least publicly very pleased with the work he and the front office did.
“We accomplished our strategic objectives and did it in a way that gives us some flexibility moving forward,” Lagerwey said on Thursday. “We created competition for literally every position on the field.”
This is how we got here:
Opening with a bang
Before the transfer window even officially opened, the Sounders had already locked up the move they absolutely needed to make by signing Ruidíaz. While their early season struggles can’t simply be chalked up to lacking a true goal-scoring threat up top, no one denied that the No. 1 target of this window was a DP forward. It’s hard to imagine the Sounders finding a more suitable fit. Ruidíaz has scored at every stop he’s made in his career, and that includes a stellar two-year run in Liga MX that saw him twice score 20 goals in a year.
In his four appearances, his abilities seem to be a bit more nuanced than advertised. In addition to possessing a powerful shot and glorious touch, he’s also shown himself to be solid in possession, a willing defender and perfectly capable of some hold-up play when needed
The one promised TAM
Even before Ruidíaz had signed, the Sounders weren’t shy about letting people know they hoped to sign a TAM player as well. A few different names surfaced, but the only one who ended up signing was Smith.
It should be said that Smith comes with some interesting points on his resume. For starters, he’s a 24-year-old with Premier League and international experience. Granted, that Premier League experience is just nine appearances over two seasons and includes zero league appearances last year after an injury cut short his 2017-18 campaign, but he was also highly considered enough that Bournemouth was willing to pay a €7.2 million fee to Liverpool just two years ago. Say what you will about his production, but Smith clearly has some talent.
The one that got away
Unfortunately, the move that I think ends up defining this transfer window for most fans is the Sounders’ inability to close the deal with Paolo Hurtado.
The Peru international had reportedly been a DP target of the Sounders during the offseason and was coming off an impressive campaign in Portugal that ended with him making the World Cup squad.
It’s still not entirely clear why a player who had several more years on his contract and coming off a productive season was suddenly available, but the Sounders were understandably interested in trying to make something work. They got close enough to making it happen that Hurtado was in town with an eye toward finalizing a deal — usually a sign that the contract is effectively ready to be signed — but ended up being wooed away by a more lucrative offer in Turkey.
“We were trying to do a really hard deal,” Lagerwey said. “We were trying to squeeze a DP-level player into a TAM-sized salary spot. At the end of the day when a competing offer came in where normally you could mitigate some of that, we were capped out. We had $1.5 million that we could offer and after that there was nothing we could do.”
What it means going forward
Lagerwey insisted he was not particularly bothered by Hurtado’s decision, suggesting the player’s addition was more of a luxury signing than the other two who filled specific holes. To a degree, that’s spin. If the Sounders didn’t think signing Hurtado was both a good move and now and going forward, they wouldn’t have made such an effort to sign him.
But I think Lagerwey is being truthful when he says there’s also an opportunity in not signing next year’s DP now.
“What it does for us, though, is it creates more flexibility,” he said. “Now that we have a blank canvass on which to paint for that next DP slot, I anticipate us doing that at some point next year. We keep our options open, we get to see how this group looks with Ruidíaz for six months, we get to have Jordan (Morris) back in the fold and the look and say how do we make this 3-5-year investment on the next one in the most strategic way possible. It would have been great to add that DP level player in the middle of this season, but it affords even better opportunities in terms of adding one next year.”
Of course, this probably sounds a bit familiar. The Sounders are facing the very real possibility of trying to add a DP at midseason for fifth straight year, unless they can buck the trend of signing one in the winter window. That’s hardly ideal.
But Lagerwey also made the case that the slow starts in each of the past three seasons were not necessarily DP-related.
“I think there are objective, fact-based reasons for why we started slow so I don’t worry about not having a DP because I think we’ve addressed the objective reasons for slow starts,” Lagerwey said. “We’re cognizant of it, we think we’ve built in a little bit of a buffer, but our belief is we have a good group and we’re continuing to build in a systematic manner.”
But what about this window?
In the end, adding a potential franchise-altering DP and another promising TAM is a good haul. I know Sounders fans were expecting a bit more, but the reality is that only five teams added a DP and none of them added anyone with the recent resume of Ruidíaz; LAFC was the only team to have a net gain in both DPs and TAM-level players; and only LAFC and the Timbers were more active on their senior roster (both signed three new players, although the Timbers also lost a DP). The Sounders also effectively added Gustav Svensson and Roman Torres from World Cup duty and Kelvin Leerdam and Victor Rodriguez from injuries.
As Lagerwey noted, there’s legitimate competition at virtually every position now.
A little disappointment is fair — especially when the Sounders were so close to getting even better — but they’re still set up nicely for the stretch run.