For at least the third time, the Seattle Sounders have managed to collect a small payday on another MLS team making a significant signing. This time it was $50,000 in General Allocation Money from the Chicago Fire, who completed their signing of Nicolás Gaitán on Thursday. The Sounders had previously collected $50,000 in GAM when Atlanta United signed Miguel Almirón and $75,000 in GAM when the Portland Timbers signed Sebastian Blanco.
In all three cases, the Sounders had those players on their Discovery List, which gave them exclusive negotiating rights for the player within MLS. In this situation, the Sounders apparently mulled over the Fire’s request for five days — the league maximum — before agreeing to relinquish his rights.
There are at least a couple potential reasons for the Sounders to consider the offer before accepting. One is that they may have known that any delay would lessen the possibility that Gaitán would be signed in time to face them. As it is, Gaitán isn’t expected to make his debut until April 6.
The delay could also suggest that the Sounders were at least considering the possibility of signing Gaitán themselves. Although the Fire were able to bring in Gaitán as a TAM player for this year, they will need to upgrade him to a DP if they pick up his option for 2020. Even if the Sounders had been able to strike a similar deal — the Fire managed to get Gaitán’s Chinese club DL Yifang to let him go on a free despite them having paid more than $6 million to Atletico Madrid about a year ago — he likely would have counted as a DP for Seattle, which would have had tradeoffs.
The biggest is that while Gaitán would undeniably make the Sounders deeper, he’s not someone who would be an automatic starter. His playing style is probably most similar to Victor Rodriguez’s — Gaitán had two goals and nine assists in about 2,400 Chinese Super League minutes last year and has been known more as a playmaker during stints at Benfica and Atletico Madrid. But Rodriguez has been arguably the Sounders’ best attacking player this year, is two years younger, is under club control for at least one more year and has a salary that’s more easily dropped below the DP threshold. It would also diminish the Sounders’ flexibility if they decide to sign more of a “true” DP in the summer.
Given that Garth Lagerwey has proclaimed confidence in the current group, it’s not surprising that the Sounders would pass on a player so close to the DP threshold but not fitting their desired profile.