clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How should we feel about Sounders’ acquisition of Héber?

This is a move designed to extend the championship window for at least another year.

New York City FC v Philadelphia Union: Eastern Conference Finals - 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

How you feel about the Seattle Sounders’ acquisition of Héber in a trade with New York City FC probably is a reflection of your outlook on this team in 2023. If you were inclined to think they were capable of making a run at a trophy this year, there’s every reason to think Héber bolsters those chances. But if you are more of the mind that the Sounders needed to start their rebuilding efforts as soon as possible, this probably feels a bit underwhelming.

Whatever you may think of the move that costs the Sounders $200,000 in General Allocation Money this year, $200,000 in GAM next year, potentially $150,000 more depending on various performance metrics and probably about $900,000 in salary cap space, it seems to indicate the team sees their championship window as open for at least another year and at the very least makes them more competitive to start the season than they would have been otherwise.

In that sense, it’s hard to argue with their thinking. Héber may not ever be the player who joined New York City FC and immediately set the league on fire, scoring 18 goals and adding four assists across all competitions in 2019, but he’s still very effective. Last year in his first full season back from an ACL injury that cost him a full calendar of competition, Héber contributed 11 goals in 1,375 all-competition minutes. That’s a rate of .72 goals per 90 minutes. Among players with at least 800 minutes played in 2022, there were only eight players with a better scoring rate. None of those players are likely to be available for anything close to what the Sounders paid for Héber and it’s a long way down the list before you start finding players who would be available for a similar outlay.

For a team that lost 15 games by just one goal, got virtually no production from their bench and saw their collective scoring rate drop by nearly .85 goals per game when Raúl Ruidíaz didn’t start, adding a player like Héber could be a significant addition.

That’s not to suggest this move is perfect. Based on a combination of public and off-the-record statements, I think we can safely say the Sounders had hoped to fill this roster spot by signing a younger international-quality player. But that was always going to be a challenge. The upper-limit transfer fee on what an MLS team can pay for a player without an open Designated Player or U22 roster spot is around $3 million.

It’s probably fair to assume the Sounders identified a few players who they liked and hoped would fit into that price range but came up empty. That left them with a couple of options. They could either wait to see if the market softened or they could look at their options from within MLS. Considering the Sounders’ first competitive match is only about five weeks away, the best-case scenario on waiting likely meant opening the season without that player and possibly waiting until more resources became available.

The internal MLS market is a little harder to assess, but the best available free agent is probably Ola Kamara. Although they have nearly identical goals per 90 rates during their MLS careers (.61), Kamara is about two years older and made about $600,000 more than Héber. He also saw his non-penalty scoring rate dip to .48 last year. Gyasi Zardes was another recently signed free agent, but he too was about the same age, made similar wages to Kamara and was coming off a season about half as productive as Héber’s.

Maxi Urruti is an example of a player who was probably available for a similar price in a trade. Urruti is about six months older, made about $250k less and would have been a far more active defender, but also produced at about half of Héber’s scoring rate.

The chances of finding a reliable backup from inside the organization was probably an even longer shot. Sam Adeniran showed some promise in his two seasons in the USL Championship, but he’s also a 24-year-old striker-winger with virtually no top-flight experience. Relying on him to make such a leap would have been a massive gamble. Behind him, there are some promising talents in the academy, but no one who looks ready to make a serious run at MLS minutes.

Given all these realities, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to be both a bit underwhelmed but still optimistic about what this does for the Sounders’ chances in 2023. Héber should give them their best off-the-bench scoring threat they’ve had in a long time and doesn’t lock the Sounders into anything beyond 2023. That’s when the Sounders’ real rebuild will likely come into a bit more focus, as many of their high-priced veterans are either scheduled to be out of contract or have options. It’s a little frustrating that the Sounders are effectively kicking the can on injecting youth into their attack, but it should help keep their championship window open a little longer.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Sounder At Heart Weekly Roundup newsletter!

A twice weekly roundup of Seattle Sounders and OL Reign news from Sounder at Heart