We’ve become used to the primary transfer deadline day being a pretty quiet affair. Although it’s probably been misstated just how quiet the Seattle Sounders are during this period — you only need to go back to last year when they signed two Targeted Allocation Money players during the early-season transfer window — the activity tends to be spread out.
This year, the Sounders announced a pair of signings less than 20 minutes before the 9:59 PM PT deadline. And they weren’t just any signings, either. One of them was 24-year-old Ecuadorian centerback Xavier Arreaga, who required a seven-figure transfer fee. The other was Joevin Jones, who you may remember as being an instrumental part to the Sounders’ back-to-back trips to MLS Cup as arguably the greatest offensive left back in league history.
You’d be forgiven if you don’t quite know what to make of all this. But don’t worry, this should answer most of your questions.
Let’s start here: Are these guys any good?
All signs point to yes. Arreaga established himself as the team captain on one of Ecuador’s biggest clubs at the age of 24. He’s already won an Ecuador Serie A Defender of the Year award and he’s starting to get looks by their national team. His highlight package shows a player who’s comfortable with the ball at his feet, confident in his tackles, willing to get forward, and capable of scoring some impressive goals.
Welcome to the club, Xavier!— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) May 8, 2019
Arreaga, 24, joins the Sounders after playing four seasons for Barcelona SC in Ecuador. pic.twitter.com/CGPrt5wXFg
I assume you’re a bit more familiar with Jones. In case you need a reminder, though, he’s the guy who set up Nelson Valdez’s game-winner in Seattle’s 2016 knockout round victory over Sporting KC, dished out two more assists during the run to MLS Cup and took the most ice-cold penalty you’ll ever see in the shootout that resulted in the Sounders lifting the Anschutz Trophy. He followed that up with a 13-assist season (including two more in the playoffs) the following year, while playing mostly as a left back. Jones then left for Germany, where he played most of two seasons with 2. Bundesliga side Darmstadt 98. He didn’t put up nearly as gaudy numbers there while being deployed almost exclusively as a left-sided midfielder, but he did show an increased knack for scoring and is still just 27.
Great! How much did this all cost?
Arreaga was the more expensive of the two and he’ll count as a Designated Player, at least for now. The Sounders had to pay a transfer fee of somewhere between $1.2-$2 million. His salary is probably in the $500,000-$600,000 range, as well. Jones’ salary is probably in that same range, but the Sounders only had to pay a $150,000 transfer fee for him and that’s not actually due until January 2020. That allowed the Sounders to keep Jones as a TAM player.
That seems like some significant dough. I thought the Sounders’ whole thing was waiting until the summer window to make big signings like this?
It’s true that they’ve expressed a preference to make their biggest signings in the summer, but they also signed TAM players like Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Kim Kee-hee in the earlier transfer window last year. To hear Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey tell it, though, both of these players are the kind of player they’d expect to sign in the summer but circumstances basically made them available now.
“It’s basically the summer transfer window accelerated,” he said. “I think we’re pretty patient about taking the right deal and the best deal, and these two ones accelerated themselves forward. We saw a chance, so we said ‘All right, let’s do it now.’”
Should we take this as some sort of statement about how Lagerwey perceives the roster now?
Lagerwey addressed this question head on: “These were not moves designed to address current needs.” While that’s a fine thing to say — especially about a team that’s currently 5-1-4 — it’s backed up by the apparent reality that neither player is going to be available immediately and the very real likelihood that both will end up getting called away later this month for international duty.
Hold up, what? When do we actually expect these guys to play?
Lagerwey said neither player’s visa is expected to be approved any sooner than a week or two from now, which is simply a product of how these sort of things work these days. Realistically, that means neither player will be available before the May 26 match at Sporting Kansas City. There’s a decent chance that Arreaga will be named to Ecuador’s Copa America team and Jones will almost certainly be on Trinidad & Tobago’s Gold Cup squad. Those tournaments both kick off in mid-June and they’d likely be called in a week before that.
Optimistically, they might be available for up to three games before those tournaments start. If both countries are knocked out in the group stage, it’s possible they could rejoin the Sounders when the team comes back from its own break on June 29 against the Vancouver Whitecaps. More likely, they’d be given some sort of post-tournament break. I’d say there’s a decent chance that neither is fully integrated into the team until the Sounders host Atlanta United on July 14, especially when you consider both are effectively coming off full seasons and could probably use some down time.
Once they’re fully integrated, how do the Sounders look?
“We have as much depth as we’ve had since I’ve been here, I’ll tell you that,” Lagerwey said. “I think this just reinforces our team and makes us slump proof.”
I think that’s probably a bit of an overstatement, but it’s hard to argue with Lagerwey’s broad strokes.
The Sounders now have four legitimate starting centerbacks and quite possibly three of the league’s best left backs. There are legitimately five very good outside midfielders. There’s no like-for-like replacement for Nicolas Lodeiro, but no team in the league has that. They could probably upgrade their backup right back position and Jordy Delem might not be the literal best backup defensive midfielder in the league, but that seems like quibbling at this point.
Are either of these guys going to be starting? Who do they replace?
Given a fully fit and available group, I don’t know that either of them are automatic starters right now. At the same time, I don’t think Lagerwey signed either of these players just to have them sit on the bench. Jones might ultimately prove to be a better left back than Smith or Nouhou. Heck, he might even replace Rodriguez or Morris on one of the wings if they aren’t producing. It’s hard to imagine Arreaga displacing either Kim or a fully-fit Marshall in the short term, but he’s also the most expensive defender the Sounders have ever signed and presumably that wasn’t because they saw him as a great third option. I guess what I’m saying is we’ll know a lot more in a couple months.
But one of Nouhou or Smith is definitely gone, right?
Not necessarily. Lagerwey seems to think Jones might be best utilized as an attacking midfielder — the role he played almost exclusively in Germany — rather than as a left back. If that’s the case, there’s no real change from how things are now. Lagerwey reiterated that he had met with Smith’s agent as recently as about a week ago and they continue to hope to figure out a way to get Bournemouth to extend his loan beyond July. But he also acknowledged that Bournemouth’s decision is somewhat out of their hands and that this at least gives them a good fallback option. Lagerwey added that while it’s always a possibility that a European team could offer a hefty fee for someone like Nouhou or that they could decide to loan him out, he also seemed to like the possibility of having a “shutdown” left back on the roster.
Why add another centerback to an already deep position?
Lagerwey noted that the oldest positional group on the team is centerback, where Marshall is 34, Torres is 33 and Kim will turn 30 this summer. In Arreaga, the Sounders may have their defensive anchor for the next 10 years. They might not need him now, but he was a player they said was at the top of their wish list and he was available now at the right price.
What about a new formation?
There does seem to be a certain logic in trying a three-back formation when you have four very good centerbacks for whom you need to find minutes. That’s doubly true if Gustav Svensson’s hamstring injury stretches beyond the summer tournaments. There’s a lot to like about their options. Maybe something like this?
Does this mean the Sounders aren’t going to make any more big signings in the summer?
Lagerwey was actually pretty adamant that this does not change the Sounders’ pursuit of a “big money” Designated Player, who could arrive as early as this summer. He said they purposefully structured these deals so that they’d still have that flexibility.
How would that even work?
Remember when Lagerwey called Victor Rodriguez’s status as a DP an “accounting mechanism”? Well, he used the same phrasing to describe Arreaga’s status. All this means is that the total cap hit of Arreaga’s prorated salary plus transfer fee over the three-year guaranteed portion of his contract is more expensive than Rodriguez, who is likely due about $1.1 million this year.
The takeaway is this: If the Sounders find someone they want to sign to a DP contract in the summer, all they need to do is use TAM to pay down Arreaga’s cap hit. Apparently, they’ve assured themselves of having enough flexibility to pull that off.
Is this creating potential problems down the road?
Reading between the lines a bit, the margins were so thin on being able to pull all this off that the Sounders needed Darmstadt to accept Jones’ transfer fee next year in order to avoid that portion hitting the cap this year.
“Let’s put it this way,” Lagerwey said, “I wouldn’t be upset if the cap went up next year.”
What’s left to add?
If the Sounders are going to add another DP-quality player, the most likely position seems to be a defensive midfielder who will be the long-term replacement for Osvaldo Alonso. I don’t think that’s anything like an immediate need, but given Svensson’s age it seems like the logical spot to look.