All offseason, Sounders General Manager and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey lamented how the collective bargaining agreement negotiations between Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Association made it difficult to do his job, because without knowing the rules of the game, it was tough to play.
So when the players and owners agreed to a new deal in January, Lagerwey set about improving the team for the 2020 season and beyond, bringing in DP midfielder João Paulo and TAM defender Yeimar Gómez Andrade. With those acquisitions, done in part to compete in the now-failed Concacaf Champions League run, Lagerwey indicated that most of the team’s financial arrows had been fired for this year.
And then the pandemic hit.
The coronavirus pandemic stands to cost the league over a billion dollars, according MLS Commissioner Don Garber, a figure that lines up with a previous estimate from Adrian Hanauer. After some protracted negotiations, the league and the players agreed to a series of financial concessions designed to mitigate the financial fallout over the next few years. Among the cuts agreed to are an across-the-board salary cut for the players, and an extension of the CBA for a year, through 2025. Additionally, television revenue sharing will be halved for a year starting in 2023.
So what do those stipulations mean in the here and now? As mentioned, the Sounders have essentially spent their disposable salary budget for this year, so they weren’t going to be in the market for a big-time signing anyway. But the contraction of salaries — and by extension the salary budget — are there any concerns about the roster construction of the team this year?
According to Lagerway, there is nothing to worry about, for this year at least.
“I’m not aware of any salary budget changes for 2020,” Lagerwey said. “I can’t rule out that they’ll tell us something [else] later, but they have not mentioned that to us as a possibility.”
With mandatory salary increases delayed for a year, and players taking a pay cut, the obvious question that follows is whether that would force teams at or near the budget cap to shed salary. That doesn’t appear to be the case for this year, Lagerwey said.
“I have not received anything from the league that leads me to believe we will have to release players as a result of anything CBA-related,” though Lagerwey noted that he hasn’t seen the final version of the CBA. Additionally, there is the potential that the revised CBA could have ramifications on roster construction in 2021 and beyond, as teams prepare to deal with a post-coronavirus sports landscape.
“There could be salary cap implications in 2021 if the reports are accurate and the 2020 cap is going to carry through into 2021,” Lagerwey said. “If the salary cap does not go up in 2020, or if it goes down, then [there could be ramifications].”
The good news for the Sounders, having a mostly complete roster, is that they won’t need to go out into the market to search for players, a task that would be much more difficult given the uncertain status of the transfer windows, and the status of work visas.
MLS halted the transfer window indefinitely when the season was suspended, but Lagerwey doesn’t seem to think that will be much of an issue.
“Based on what we know today, FIFA will allow a lot flexibility around transfer windows,” Lagerwey said. “We would have the ability to finish the first window, and combine it with the second window. We’ll be able to set it more or less where we want to for a decent length of time.”
The more pressing concern for teams in the market for players will be getting visas processed, given the hold on immigration. So even if the Sounders had money to spend, it’s unclear whether they’d be able to get the paperwork processed to bring in a player from outside the United States in.
“I think you’re going to have a bigger issue around whether visas can be issued,” Lagerwey said. There was a fairly significant delay in getting Andrade eligible to play earlier this year, so Lagerwey likely won’t lose much sleep in the short term having his team mostly set for 2020. For now, he can focus on preparing for an extended stay in Orlando.