The MLS transfer window does not officially open for more than a month, but teams around the league have already been active and the offseason has clearly begun to take shape. The Seattle Sounders are no exception. Although the the most notable move they’ve officially announced was the acquisition of veteran centerback Jonathan Campbell, they’ve also secured the longterm futures of both Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan.
Over the next couple months, though, the Sounders will need to make some big decisions. Here’s a quick look at the offseason so far and what we might expect going forward:
There hadn’t been a ton of chatter about it — largely because I think most people assumed Roldan and Morris would re-sign — but the Sounders were at least a little bit worried about two of their cornerstone players going into the season in the final years of their rookie contracts. If they had been allowed to get to summer without new deals being signed, both could have signed pre-contracts elsewhere and left the Sounders on free transfers at the end of the year. That’s why getting these deals done now was considered so important.
It can — and has been — argued that the Sounders overpaid for both. I’m not so sure. While Morris’ deal will reportedly pay him as much as $5 million over the five-year term, I’ve been told it would only reach that level if he hits some significant performance bonuses. Most likely, the three-year guaranteed portion of the contract is for a relatively team-friendly price and as long as he stays healthy, doesn’t strike me as too concerning.
Roldan’s contract is reportedly worth about $4 million over five years. Even if all five years are guaranteed, something I’ve not been able to confirm, I don’t think this is particularly risky either.
Keeping in mind that both players are younger than 25 and already have proven themselves in MLS, the risk just doesn’t seem to be there. Just looking around at what other teams have done so far this offseason, and none of the recent TAM signings have resumes nearly as impressive as Morris or Roldan — and while some are a little younger, most are at least in the same range.
I would never try to convince anyone to get excited about the acquisition of a 25-year-old centerback coming off a pair of seasons in which he was clearly second-choice, but I think there’s reason to like the signing of Campbell. Putting aside an obviously down 2017, Campbell was a solid starter — for an admittedly bad team — in 2016 and seemed to do fine in the minutes he got last year, again with a bad Chicago Fire squad.
His stats suggest he’s a player who maybe just didn’t quite fit what Veljko Paunović had in mind, rather than someone who just wasn’t very good. In 2016, for instance, he averaged 1.6 tackles per 90 minutes while only getting beaten .2 times per 90. He also made 3.1 interceptions per 90 that year. Campbell’s numbers dropped off a bit in the last two seasons — along with his playing time — but his 2016 numbers were largely on par with Chad Marshall. If the Sounders can get him performing at that level, he’d be a huge addition, especially if he’s basically a third or fourth centerback.
Big decisions ahead
The Sounders don’t seem to be any closer to answering questions around veterans Román Torres and Osvaldo Alonso. Torres is at least under contract, but it’s been no mystery that he wants to be somewhere he’s not the third-choice centerback. Alonso, meanwhile, is a free agent and his social media feed has gone mostly quiet since some cryptic messages near the start of December.
My gut still tells me that both players are more likely to move on than return to Seattle where they’ll be likely be asked to provide veteran depth, as opposed to being relied upon to be starters. I think both players can still start in this league, and it’s hard to blame them if they find a team more willing to give them that chance.
While still looking a bit out of shape, Torres was solid when called into emergency service in the playoff series against the Timbers. There aren’t a lot of teams with two starters as good as Marshall and Kim Kee-hee and I suspect at least one team will be willing to make a decent offer to get him.
Alonso’s future is a little harder to predict. Most of the top free agents in the class have already signed new deals. An argument can be made that Alonso is the best available player (depending on how you view Benny Feilhaber), but that also suggests there’s not exactly a robust market for Alonso’s services.
I don’t doubt Alonso can start, but this seems to be the market telling him that no one is dying to pay him starter’s money. That could also create an opening for Alonso to return to Seattle, who might still be willing to pay him more than anyone else, albeit a lot less than he had been previously been making.
The great unknown
The other consequential issue with the current roster is largely out of the Sounders’ control. With the English transfer window now open, it’s possible that the clock has started ticking on Bournemouth’s ability to recall Brad Smith. Although Smith ended up only making six appearances, he did show some promise and at least seemed to push Nouhou into some of his best performances of the season.
As good as Smith looked in the attacking phases at time — and they were small snippets — the Sounders might not be too upset if Bournemouth recalled him. Smith is on TAM wages and that money could likely be used to secure a player of similar quality.
If he does return, it does give the Sounders another attacking option on the left side. Smith showed off some impressive speed and while the end result wasn’t always there, looked more polished in the final third.
What’s left to do
To some degree, the moves the Sounders need to make will be dictated by what happens with the players listed above. My suspicion is that they’ll be signing at least one international defensive player. The Sounders have already been linked to several players like this, with Miguel Trauco (who appears to be joining San Lorenzo) and Jadson the most notable.
In comments at the Alliance Business Meeting, Garth Lagerwey seemed to be suggesting that bolstering the defense was a higher priority than adding to the offense (especially with Morris’ return to health).
But given how the offseason has played out so far, I wonder if that might be changing.
I know the Sounders were interested in Kelyn Rowe, but I’m not surprised they couldn’t match Sporting KC’s offer of Diego Rubio and I can’t say with any certainty they were even involved in those discussions.
My suspicion, though, is the Sounders would love to have a player like Rowe, a midfielder who can move around in the attack and complement the likes of Nicolas Lodeiro and Victor Rodriguez. With Campbell already providing some depth at centerback and the free-agent market on Alonso appearing to be pretty cool, I could see an attacking piece moving up in terms of priority for the Sounders.
Nothing I’ve seen or heard, however, makes me think the Sounders are intending to sign a Designated Player before the start of the season. Assuming no unforeseen losses, the Sounders seem reasonably well set at most of their key positions and appear inclined to see how the roster performs before making a major investment in a new player. Admittedly, that’s the logic they’ve used the past two offseasons — which has contributed to the slow starts — but also a strategy that has served them well down the stretch.
Other potential signings
While the top end of the roster is mostly set, there will inevitably be some signings to fill out the lower end. The most intriguing potential signings are goalkeeper Trey Muse and centerback Sam Rogers, a pair of academy products who have featured on various youth national teams.
Muse was recently ranked as the second best potential HGP prospect and is coming off a pair of standout seasons at Indiana. With Stefan Frei showing no signs of decline, Muse would be given plenty of time to develop, most likely with S2 where he still might get as many as 30 starts. Most observers seem to think he’s ready for the pros, but it’s at least possible he’ll choose to explore Europe or remain in college.
Rogers skipped college and has spent the last two years with S2. He was very impressive his first year, but was a bit more up and down last year as a combination of injuries, rotating partners and national team call-ups kept him from ever finding a real rhythm. The question with Rogers is more when, rather than if he’ll join the First Team. Even if he signs, he’ll likely continue to get most of his minutes with S2 as there should be no reason to rush the 19-year-old.
While there are plenty of budding talents currently with S2, the only one who seems likely to get a serious First Team shot is Denso Ulysse. The Haitian right back just turned 20 and is coming off a year in which he was named the to the All-USL second-team and was tabbed as the No. 7 player in the USL’s 20-under-20 list. Ulysse is considered a more attack-minded player and might be capable of challenging Jordan McCrary for the backup spot.
Probably the next most likely HGP candidate is midfielder Dylan Teves, who just finished his freshman season at the University of Washington. The Sounders had offered Teves a S2 contract previously, and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that they’d up that offer to a First Team deal after he posted five goals and two assists in less than 1,000 minutes. All but one goal came over his final 10 games of the season when he was installed as a regular starter.