On the heels of Tuesday's announcement that the Seattle Sounders signed 2016 draft pick Tony Alfaro to a first team deal and traded General Allocation Money (GAM) to Toronto FC in exchange for Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) and an international roster spot, General Manager Garth Lagerwey was upbeat about where the club stands as the MLS season gets underway. "When you put our best XI out there right now, we’re pretty solid. I don’t see any holes. I don’t look at it and say 'we have to replace this person because they’re not able to play at a high level.'"
Lagerwey stressed that the front office is happy with how the team is playing right now, and isn't in a rush to make any reactionary moves based on recent events, like Sunday's loss to Sporting Kansas City or the departure of Obafemi Martins. "There's absolutely no reason to be reactive or panicked about who we are gonna add. We think we have a good team and played Club America pretty tightly, which is arguably the best team we'll play all year and I think it took some fairly extraordinary bad luck for us to lose against Kansas City."
This makes sense, as the club haven't jumped into any big deal since the Martins transfer, but the trade with Toronto FC is undoubtedly related to plans that the Sounders have in the future, whether near or far. Lagerwey gave a little detail on what the trade meant, and what the Sounders could do with their side of the transaction. As for the international roster spot, "It allows us to add another foreign player if we choose to do that as I've talked about in a couple different places. There's a possibility for us now to add not one but two players if we decide ultimately that's the direction we want to go."
So picking up that roster spot was clearly meant to pave the way for a foreign player to join, whether or not the club has a player (or players) in mind for it. As for the TAM, Lagerwey said "the TAM can be used in fewer circumstances than GAM can but TAM makes it a little easier to buy the more expensive players. Having a little bit more TAM makes it possible to have a second player that's maybe worth a little bit more." Possibly just to mess with everyone's heads, Lagerwey dropped another tidbit about what the club could use with all the extra cap space, especially since the open DP slot cleared even more of it: "I'd even say that there are some scenarios that you might even see us sign more than two (players) and maybe spread that TAM and GAM out."
Either way, Lagerwey said the team wasn't doing all of this to make room for one specific player. "In general, we're not gonna get fixated on one target or one good outcome. We're gonna look at how our team plays, how we develop, how healthy we are, how Brad Evans does, and we're gonna try to make our team better." Fans shouldn't take that as a lack of action, but rather the Sounders are trying to get a better vision for what they need instead of jumping out and grabbing the first player willing to join. "We're working and I don't want people to think we are resting on our laurels and admiring all the work we did in the offseason and not trying to improve the team."
Even if the Sounders don't make a move soon, it could be in the team's best interest to wait until the summer transfer window. Seattle made a similar move last season, picking up Nelson Valdez, Erik Friberg, Roman Torres, and Andreas Ivanschitz midway through the MLS season. Signing a player in the primary window, "meaning the one that's open from now until May, it's double the cap hit. So you can sign the same player later, have him eligible July 4 when there are 18 games left to play and he'd be coming in at half a cap hit." Lagerwey even alluded that the Sounders could wait until certain international leagues (nearly all of which have an August-May season) end, and snag a player in before the first transfer window ends so that he can have a preseason with the Sounders if not playing in Copa America or the European Championships.
As for the types of players that Lagerwey and the front office have been looking at, he again stressed that the club aren't looking at a single outcome with their transfer activity, but noted areas they wanted to work on. One of those areas was youth. "One of the keys to making our team better long term is bringing in more good young players as we've been trying to do." Lagerwey said that in the past, the Sounders' transfer activity has been a little short-sighted, signing players with the hope of immediate impact to win a trophy within the current season. The club is looking to change that when they look at replacing Obafemi Martins or reinforcing other areas of the team. "It doesn’t mean we don’t want to try to win in 2016, what i’m saying is that it allows us to balance our roster from a salary cap perspective and from a positional perspective which I hope is more sustainable, and can hopefully give us a chance to win in 2016 but then a much better chance of winning in years beyond that."
The other key quality that Lagerwey says the Sounders are looking for in a new signing is creativity. "I think Andreas (Ivanschitz) has done a great job in terms of pushing the ball forward from that advanced position. I worry about what we look like if anything happens to Andreas. Clint can pop up underneath and create as well, but ideally I want to get Clint around the box. He's a goalscorer." Lagerwey clearly sees a need for creative midfielders that can play similarly to Ivanschitz, while also providing a variety to keep opposing teams on their toes.
At the end of the day, though, Lagerwey's goal is to make the Sounders the best team possible. Sure, the club wants to go with young, creative, energetic players, but if a certain move is not in the best interest for the Sounders, Lagerwey finds no need to do it. "We are gonna look younger, we’re not wedded to things. If we find an older player who’s the best player out there at the best value, that’s who we’re gonna sign." He says that veteran players are certainly extremely valuable, especially for the Sounders. But specifically targeting veterans from MLS and abroad seems to be less of a priority than it was in the past. "But because of where our group is now, we need to supplement some of the older guys with some younger guys if we want to have the energy and balance to get through a long season and still have those guys fresh enough at the end of the season."
It's a 10-month season, and the Sounders need to be smarter if they want to last down the stretch. "What happens when guys get banged up or miss a week here and there. Who can you plug and play? Does that player look like the guy in front of him? So you don’t have to change how you play, only who you play. Because at the end of the day, we’re trying to win MLS Cup, which means you gotta be playing your best in October, November, December. You gotta be healthy enough to get there."