TUKWILA, Wash. — They left it until the very end, but the Seattle Sounders were able to push a couple of signings across the line just before the summer transfer window closed on Wednesday night. The signing of Emanuel Cecchini was long rumored and expected, but the addition of Luis Silva came out of the blue. The MLS veteran had spent the first part of this year in Finland and the Sounders were able to secure his move on a free transfer.
Let’s see if we can’t give some context to everything that has happened.
Pretty underwhelming all things considered, don’t ya think?
Coming in hot! It really depends on your perspective. Like most Sounders fans, I was holding out at least some hope that they’d make a surprise splashy signing. When the early-season transfer window closed, Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey had suggested the team had given themselves enough room to make a Designated Player signing in the summer. That is, after all, when Lagerwey seems to prefer to do most of his big business.
But he’s also been dropping hints that their focus had changed and that they might be content to add more ancillary pieces. If you come at it from that perspective, signing a 22-year-old midfielder who was good enough to convince a team in La Liga to pay $5 million for his transfer two years ago doesn’t seem like such a bad haul. Silva really should be looked at as pure bonus, considering Cecchini doesn’t hit the salary cap much softer than a DP would have.
Still, the Sounders are being pretty cheap, right?
It’s definitely true that the Sounders do not have three “true” Designated Players, meaning players who can’t be bought down below that threshold with allocation money. But they do have 13 players who make more than the maximum cap hit, which is as many as any team in the league. Three of those “over the max” players were signed since May, and that doesn’t even include the loan extension on Brad Smith. If you include the transfer fee the Sounders will have to pay Darmstadt next year, all three of those “over the max” players required the Sounders to either spend money on a transfer fee or a loan fee. They aren’t out there spending money quite on the scale of Atlanta United or LAFC, but they’re right there with everyone else.
But they had the ability to sign a DP. Why wait?
The skeptic says they were just cheap and didn’t feel like spending the money. That might be true. There’s a more nuanced view that has at least some validity, though. Lagerwey noted that the Collective Bargaining Agreement is currently being negotiated and there’s no telling what the landscape looks like after that.
“They could change the rules, they could change the rosters, everything is pretty much up in the air,” Lagerwey said. “You always like to be a little more flexible going into CBA season.”
OK, tell me about Cecchini, again.
(Seriously, didn’t you ask this like a week ago...) Cecchini broke out in a 2016-17 when he started 27 Argentine Primera Division games for Banfield, who finished fifth in the table. That might not seem great, but Argentina has arguably the toughest league in the Western Hemisphere and that was Banfield’s best finish since they won the Apertura in 2009-10. Since that championship year, they’d actually been relegated twice and have usually struggled to get into the top half of the table. Cecchini was a midfield staple for that team, scoring four goals and providing the type of two-way play coaches drool over.
So what happened?
After moving to Malaga, then a solidly mid-table team in La Liga, things didn’t go so well. Cecchini struggled for playing time and in his own words, “failed to adapt” to his new surroundings. He was sent on loan to Liga MX’s Leon, where he also had trouble getting on the field. In the meantime, Malaga were relegated. Rather than bring back Cecchini, they sent him on loan back to Banfield. He started the year in his familiar No. 8 role, but then moved to more of a No. 6.
These sound liked red flags.
That’s where the Sounders’ on-the-ground connections come in. Chris Henderson watched Cecchini play in person several times and Sounders assistant Djimi Traore apparently knew one of Cecchini’s teammates at Leon, who vouched for the Argentine’s work ethic.
Why wouldn’t Malaga just take him back?
It’s unclear how interested they were in doing that, but they didn’t have a ton of options. With new financial regulations in place, the Spanish federation started cracking down on teams that were spending beyond their revenues. With Malaga in the second division, that meant they had to cut wages. With Cecchini apparently due to make about $1 million a year, getting him off the books made a lot of sense.
How long is he here?
The loan agreement is through the end of the 2020 season, for which the Sounders are apparently on the hook for his full salary plus a $150,000 loan fee. Once the loan is over, various reports have suggested they’ll have an opportunity to complete the transfer for $2 million. The beauty of the deal from the Sounders’ perspective is that if he’s not working out, they can just let him go and won’t have been out much.
I heard that’s just 50 percent of his rights. What’s that mean?
From the looks of it, that’s basically a way for Malaga to keep from having to take a big loss on Cecchini. Assuming those reports are accurate, the Sounders would likely still have the controlling interest, but would have to share any profits they make if they were to sell him at a later date.
Where’s he going to play?
While the Sounders most definitely did not pick up the pacy winger that so many have been clamoring for, Cecchini gives them the ability to get creative with their lineups and formations. Cecchini could slot into the defensive midfield alongside Gustav Svensson and allow Cristian Roldan to move into the attacking midfield; he could play alongside Roldan or Danny Leyva and make room for Harry Shipp; he could play with Jordy Delem and make it easier to move Svensson to centerback.
When can we expect him to play?
Cecchini still needs to get his visa, so he’s not yet eligible to play. Past experience tells us it usually takes at least a week to 10 days to obtain one, so the best-case scenario is that he’s eligible for the Aug. 17 match at the LA Galaxy. The safer bet is that he’s eligible for the Aug. 23 game at the Portland Timbers, which would be quite the place to make his MLS debut.
Wait a minute, I thought the Sounders were out of international roster spots?
They are! But the Sounders don’t technically need to make room for him on the roster until they’re ready to play him. That means they still have some time to figure out how to open up an international roster spot.
How might they do that?
The simplest way would be to trade for one. With the transfer window now closed, anyone left holding an international roster spot doesn’t have too many ways to use it. The going rate was already a rather cheap $50,000 in allocation money. But even if the Sounders can’t find someone willing to part with a spot, they could still open one by sending a player on loan. And even if there’s not an international destination, they could send the player to Tacoma Defiance. It wouldn’t be the preferred method, mind you, but it’s definitely an option.
Enough about Cecchini, who’s this other guy they signed?
Luis Silva is a name you probably recognize if you’ve been following MLS. This will be Silva’s fourth MLS team and he’s played eight seasons in the league already. His best year was back in 2014 when he scored 11 goals and four assists for D.C. United. He eventually found his way to Tigres UANL in Mexico, where he didn’t make a first team appearance before returning to MLS in 2017 and scored 12 goals over two seasons in limited minutes for Real Salt Lake. RSL declined his option last year and he ended up playing for FC Honka in Finland, where he had three goals in about 800 minutes. During his nine seasons as a professional, he’s averaging .32 goals and .46 goals+assists per 90 minutes.
Is that good?
It ain’t bad! The Sounders are hoping he can basically fill the Will Bruin role. Bruin, for comparison’s sake, has averaged .38 goals and .51 goals+assists during his professional career, albeit in a sample size nearly twice as big. Once he’s acclimated, Silva probably takes minutes that would have otherwise gone to Justin Dhillon. Considering he was available for virtually nothing, it’s a fine signing that has virtually no downside.
Are any players leaving?
There’s nothing official yet, but Lagerwey hinted that Henry Wingo could still go to Molde and said Defiance centerback Sam Rogers is with Belgium’s Standard Liege on a trial.
How much better are the Sounders now than at the start of the window?
Even with the additions, it really depends on how healthy they are at any given time. The good news is that Raúl Ruidíaz and Victor Rodriguez were full participants in training and seem ready to go for Saturday. Gustav Svensson was about “75 percent” in and will apparently be returning soon. But Kelvin Leerdam trained entirely on the side and Brad Smith wasn’t even on the training field. These additions make the Sounders a bit deeper, but they may not raise their ceiling too much.