In fact, last year was the first time since 2009 that the Sounders failed to make a single summer signing.
Just like last year, though, a Sounder at Heart analysis of publicly available information suggests they are virtually flush against the salary cap and will need to move someone in order to make a significant signing. In other words, this could be another quiet summer. I should add that even if they don’t move anyone, they should still be able to sign some players from the Tacoma Defiance. I would assume Paul Rothrock, Braudilio Rodrigues, Stuart Hawkins and Hal Uderitz are the most likely candidates. I don’t know that any of them are going to seriously move the needle either in terms of excitement or performance.
I’ll also add that even if the Sounders don’t do anything they should be getting three bonafide internationals when Jordan Morris, Alex Roldan and Cristian Roldan rejoin the team after the Gold Cup.
But with the Sounders mired in a 3-6-4 run over their past 13 games, there’s an understandable desire to see them do something bigger, especially on the heels of three straight transfer windows with relatively little movement.
I’ve compiled a list of players who could conceivably be moved through various methods. I don’t know how likely any of them are to actually happen. But here are some of the ways the Sounders could potentially make space and allow them to sign someone during the secondary transfer window that opens on July 5 and closes Aug. 2:
Sell a youngster
This is probably the most realistic way that the Sounders can get an Allocation Money haul, and they have several players who have been reliably linked to foreign interest.
- Obed Vargas: Probably the highest-upside prospect to ever come out of the Sounders Academy, Vargas won’t actually be eligible for a transfer to Europe until Aug. 5 when he turns 18. It’s, of course, possible that a deal could be reached before then and perfectly likely that the team might even let him finish out the year with the Sounders. That said, coming off a solid performance at the U20 World Cup, the Sounders are in no hurry to move Vargas and I imagine that it would take a pretty significant offer to entice a move. I suspect it would need to start around $5M with sell-on incentives.
- Reed Baker-Whiting: There have been rumors of European interesting surrounding Baker-Whiting for a couple years and he did a training stint with the Bundesliga’s Freiberg over the offseason. At one point earlier this year, a scout from Wolverhampton was in town to watch both him and Vargas. Although he has just two starts, he has made a career-high eight MLS appearances and is regularly spelling Cody Baker late in games when the Sounders are chasing a goal. He’s also versatile and quickly developing into a serious physical presence. I wouldn’t expect his price tag to be quite as high as Vargas’, but also wouldn’t be surprised to see him make a move.
- Danny Leyva: Currently on loan to the Colorado Rapids, he’s at least getting the kind of regular time he was struggling to find with the Sounders. Already in his fifth professional season as a 20-year-old, it would make a ton of sense to move Leyva if a serious offer materializes. The most likely destination would seemingly be a Liga MX team and he could likely fetch $2M-$3M. It’s also possible the Sounders could work out a permanent move to the Rapids, likely for General Allocation Money.
Sell/trade a veteran
I’d rate these as less likely options, but ones that are at least viable to consider:
- Nouhou: After showing well at the most recent World Cup, there was some anticipation that a European team would show some serious interest. None developed. Instead, the Sounders fashioned a game model partly around Nouhou’s particular skillset. To a degree it’s worked well. The Sounders allow just .78 goals per 90 when Nouhou is on the field. Offensively, it’s more of a mixed bag, as the Sounders score just 1.13 goals per 90 with him on the field. That said, you’d have to imagine the Sounders would be very open to moving him if the right offer came along. I just think it’s going to take a very particular kind of team that wants him and I’m not sure any offer is likely to suddenly materialize.
- Albert Rusnák: When Rusnák was a free agent two off-seasons ago, he was considered one of the most enticing players to ever hit the open market in MLS. That the Sounders landed him was seen as a bit of a coup and he did help deliver a Concacaf Champions League title. Almost two years later, it’s still not entirely clear what his best position is with the Sounders. Right now, it looks like they’ll try him at the No. 10 spot and see how it goes. But he is heading into an option year and the Sounders would have to listen if teams made a compelling trade offer. I think the smart money is probably on him sticking around and signing an extension, perhaps one that allows him to fall below the DP threshold, which is likely around $1.7M next season (he currently hits the cap at about $1.9M).
Thanks to changes to the MLS roster rules for this season, this is an option that was previously unavailable. Buying out a player would be painful and require some pride to be swallowed, but might end up as the only way to create enough space to significantly impact the roster this year.
- Xavier Arreaga: Once Arreaga lost his starting job at the start of the year, there was a tacit understanding that he and his $750,000 salary were on the trading block. With all the centerbacks that were traded in the primary transfer window, it seemed like the market for Arreaga should have fallen somewhere between $200,000 and $1M in GAM, especially considering he had just made Ecuador’s World Cup team. I don’t know what the Sounders were actually offered, but we can assume it wasn’t enough to justify losing the depth he offered nor the opportunity cost of potentially trading him this summer. Unfortunately, Arreaga’s recent injury came at just about the worst time. Not only were the Sounders going into a stretch in which he likely would have gotten his first consistent minutes, but he’s likely out until after the transfer window closes, effectively rendering him untradeable. Distasteful as it may be, there is a Plan B: With Arreaga in the final guaranteed year of his contract and the Sounders likely planning to decline his option, they can still buy him out and recoup the prorated portion of his salary cap hit. That’s likely only about $300,000 but it would be enough to potentially add a veteran attacker, maybe someone like Rubio Rubin who could now be considered surplus.
- Nicolás Lodeiro: Hard as it would be to buy out Arreaga, this would be considerably tougher. It’s not just that Lodeiro is still owed about $1.4M, but he’s still perfectly healthy and starting games. He is not, however, producing numbers that justify his Designated Player tag. Buying out Lodeiro really only makes sense if the Sounders have another DP all lined up and ready to sign, but if there is such a player it makes just as much sense to do it now as it would be to wait until the winter. There would be a harder to quantify cost to something like this, though. Lodeiro is undeniably the best player in franchise history and has delivered everything that could have possibly been asked of him. He remains a hard worker and, best I can tell, a positive locker room influence. It’s entirely possible that a move like this could severely backfire and cause real strife even if he’s immediately replaced.