Matt Pentz: Sounders must make additions to compete with MLS elite


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Matt Pentz is an award-winning sports reporter who writes weekly columns on Sounders FC for Prost Amerika. Matt’s work also appears on the Guardian, ESPNFC, FourFourTwo and Yahoo

Outside back Kelvin Leerdam has been the only addition for the Seattle Sounders this summer — at least so far.

As always, discussing the transfer market with Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey is an exercise in decoding corporate-speak, squeezing every drop of intrigue out of various forms of no comment.

“I’m a lawyer, man,” Lagerwey says, slyly. “Until things are signed, they’re not signed. We’ve had lots of conversations with lots of different people, and we’re working on it.

“I realize fully how frustrating that answer is, but better that than speculating or getting others to speculate on something that is not complete.”

Even Lagerwey must recognize that attempting to cut down on outside speculation is an exercise in futility with a fan base as voracious about rumors as Seattle’s is. His comments above came Monday morning, just hours before a fresh round of reports connected the Sounders with yet another potential Designated Player signing.

As self-serving as Lagerwey’s sentiments may appear on first glance, they’re undeniably sound on one point: Until pen is put to paper, nothing has been accomplished.

It’s up to the GM and his staff to change that between now and the time MLS’ summer transfer window closes on Aug. 9. Because while the Sounders may have steadied themselves over the last couple of weeks, they’re still a missing piece or two away from the ranks of the true MLS Cup contenders.

Lagerwey, as behooves a man of his position, plays down the absolute necessity of reinforcements.

“I tried to be careful to say that yes, we are speaking to DPs, and we continue to do that,” Lagerwey said. “But if we don’t get the right deal, I’m not going to go waste a bunch of money just to say, ‘We signed a DP. Look, we’re doing something over here.’”

The team is also playing well right now, having gone 6-2-2 in their last 10 league games, Lagerwey points out, so the situation is much less dire than it was, say, 12 months ago.

“I believe this team is more talented than the one that won the title a year ago,” Lagerwey said.

Even accepting that assertion as true on its face – I’m not sure I agree, personally – last season’s run was a rare confluence of momentum and good bounces unlikely to be repeated again. Seattle took advantage of weakened opponents throughout the Western Conference playoffs and lifted the trophy despite not managing a single shot on goal in the MLS Cup final.

The Sounders cannot expect fate to be kind against tougher opposition for two postseasons running.

That’s not to say Lagerwey’s optimism is entirely misplaced. Seattle has shown impressive resilience in rallying from behind and playing through the absences of some of its top players. In a down West, only against FC Dallas would they currently be overmatched.

Anybody who has regularly and objectively watched the Eastern Conference, though, will notice a gap in quality between the Sounders (really, anyone west of the Mississippi) and the top chunk of the East. Toronto, Chicago, New York City FC and Atlanta would all like their chances against any challenger from the other half of the bracket.

To pull even, Seattle badly needs to add another game-changing playmaker to what has been an erratic attack.

“We’ve had advanced conversations with a couple of folks,” Lagerwey said. “That does not guarantee a DP signing if it’s not what we feel gives us the best chance at a title.”

Lagerwey describes those conversations as “ongoing.” The deadline grows closer on the horizon by the day.

Some other insightful nuggets from Monday’s one-on-one with Lagerwey:

– On whether there is added pressure to get a deal done now, given the challenge of attracting top talent in other windows: “With the Champions League coming up in January, would it be ideal to sign everyone we can possibly sign now? Honestly, yes it would,” Lagerwey said. “That would be the best-case scenario. But again, you just don’t want to be stupid. It’s still real money. You only get to spend it once. If you say, ‘Ah, we’ve gotta have one this window,’ and you push yourself into signing a guy you don’t believe in, that’s a failure of your process.”

– On the consideration of timing: “There are a number of players that have a low seven-figure transfer fee that would be free or close-to-free in six-to-12 months. That’s an example of what I’m talking about: Do you want to pay a bunch of money right now if you think you can get him in 12 months when he’s out of contract?”

– On how Targeted Allocation Money is changing the game, especially in regards to Designated Player signings: “With the advent of TAM, the TAM guys hit at one-third of what a full DP hits out (against the salary cap). You have a real incentive then, under the system, to sign more TAM guys and potentially fewer DPs. I know that’s tricky to explain. But there are actually scenarios now as we go forward where you might go with a two DP model and have more TAM players.

“It’s something that we’re still unpacking, and I don’t think we’re there yet, which makes it more likely we’d sign a DP this window. But I don’t think it’s a 100 percent, black-and-white (issue). We’re also, honestly, looking to sign more than one player. That also influences the strategy. Maybe you sign one big one, maybe you sign a couple of smaller ones.”


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