With the departure of Jordan Morris on loan (and maybe more) to Swansea City, there is a necessary wariness from Seattle Sounders fans. It is the end of an era, probably. Morris produced at an MVP quality and did so at a budget-friendly cap hit.
Replacing that quality will be difficult. Sounders President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey mentioned that there are two main complications to that task — not knowing if the loan is a permanent move means that they cannot spend 100% of the newly available cap space; and scouting during the global Covid-19 pandemic complicates the final stages of that activity, which involves personality assessments.
What types of talents can be used to fill the gaping holes on both wings of Seattle’s current roster? Who could do that at value prices while also being someone with whom Lagerwey and Brian Schmetzer are familiar?
Here are nine players who make a bit of sense, although each and every one of them is an imperfect fit. They all are likely better wingers than soon-to-sign Kelyn Rowe or the former Defiance kids, but they aren’t going to make anyone’s Best XI in 2021.
MLS free agents at a good price point (150k-300k)
There were about four-dozen attacking midfielders and forwards who made between $150,000 and $300,000 in 2019. The vast majority of those were talents on club-friendly contracts and make no sense at all for the Sounders. Two stand out as being at the right price point and could be effective.
If you remember Garcia as the creative winger for the Houston Dynamo, that’s fair. He lost a lot of his effectiveness as he aged. Now 36, the still creates a bit of danger when he’s on the field. A clear stopgap who could go unsigned and retire.
Way back in 2013 Hurtado looked like he could burst out and become a regular scoring threat. 2013 and 2020 were the only years he scored more than 3 goals in the regular season, scoring just five each time. A spot starter at forward and a rare right wing, he’s mostly a sub now at age 30.
Pricier MLS free agents who might take pay cut to play here
There’s still an appeal to play for Seattle. The list of teams that have made MLS Cup four times in five years is indeed short. Someday there will 40,000 in Lumen Field again. Our region remains beautiful, with the bluest skies and evergreen hills. Maybe a pricier free agent would be willing to be part of the greatest soccer team in the US’s current pro era (‘94-present).
He’s only 28! It’s easy to forget that the former US Men’s National Team player with 10 seasons in MLS first went pro at 17, as one of the greatest prospects of his era. Now Agudelo is a journeyman who can play in every attacking role. He’s faded from importance with New England and Miami over the past few seasons. But, with skill left in the tank he could offer a goalscoring threat and a bit of holdup play.
Speaking of former hot prospects, why not be the 74th team who has tried to play Erick Torres as if he was good? Also 28, Cubo had two great goal-scoring seasons as a forward and a dozen attempts to try to get him to figure out how to be consistent. His time with Mexico might give him a premium. His forgettable decade of performance and rare time on the wing make him an unlikely fit.
The Golden God was one of the many talents that the Vancouver Whitecaps wasted in 2020. Sure, he’s primarily a forward, but as a sub he’s played on the left wing, and when Vancouver played with three forwards he was on the left. No longer the 10+ goal a year kid, the 33-year-old owns a coffeeshop in Seattle and has earned several million dollars over a long career. If he’s going to play one final season, he might be interested in doing it here on the cheap.
From those two sets of MLS free agents, there are two whose stats stand out (FBref Comparative Player) over the past two years of soccer — Montero and Hurtado. Hurtado is the better winger. Montero is the better overall player.
Creative solutions that require more than money
Did we include Teal just so Zakuani might read the story?
Yes. No. Maybe. Bunbury would require a trade with New England, which is highly unlikely. He used to be a pure forward. As he’s aged, he’s always found a way to contribute, drifting back into the attacking band as a more creative player. Someone who always finds a way on the pitch, the Akron forward will now be challenged by Revs additions Ema Boateng, Wilfried Kaptoum, and other talents. If he’s being forced out Garth might as well ask the price.
Who needs another left mid, left back, left winger? Seattle, that’s who. Salinas has been in MLS longer than the Seattle Sounders have been in MLS. He lost his starting gig due to age, but he’s still an effective player who can press the full pitch, which is something Schmetzer may want from his wingers, because if they can’t be goal threats they have to be defensive strengths. This would require a trade with San Jose.
Of all the players on this list, Badji is the one most similar in style to Morris. He’s just older and slower and less wingery. Just a part-time player in Nashville, Dom might be available because former Sounder Handwalla Bwana is now there. He would probably be cheap, but will Nashville want to recoup the significant Allocation Money they sent to Dallas for a player who they now see as extraneous?
If may be funny, but the acquisition of the guy who can play left back makes the most sense from this group. Compared to the others, he’s statistically the most Jordan of the group.
Acquire via loan
If you remember his name it’s because he was once a Sounders target — really. Since then Vargas has been part of Montreal’s global org and is now back in Chile. Still young and still cheap, he would fit as a “take a guy on loan for 6 months as a stop-gap” option. His salary is such that he wouldn’t break the bank, and he (or someone like him) would allow Lagerwey time to figure out a long-term solution if Morris’ loan becomes a permanent transfer.
Part of why Vargas makes sense is because during the pandemic bringing in a player from overseas is complicated by the inability to scout off-field things like personality. A player without past connections makes no sense until the Sounders scouting operation is fully operational, which will take a world with less Covid-19 in it.
Let’s face it. None of these solutions are great. There are certainly other talents available at similar prices, but they’re just different names. No one at this price is going to replace Jordan Morris. That’s not the point. There needs to be someone who can start most games until August, and who can force players like Shandon Hopeau, Ethan Dobbeleare, and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez to earn playing time, rather than have it gifted to them.
Can one of these players or someone similar be the Herculez Gomez of 2021? Maybe. That may be the best Seattle can hope for in the short term.