The Seattle Sounders begin preseason training on January 14, and there are still some notable holes for the team to fill–especially in defense. According to Sounders General Manager and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey, there is one culprit: The Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The CBA expires on January 31, though the practical deadline is about three weeks later, as Concacaf Champions League gets started. The Sounders have made two moves, having announced that midfielder Harry Shipp re-signed with the team earlier this week, and traded for goalkeeper Stephan Cleveland. Aside from that and two acquisitions in the MLS SuperDraft, the roster moves have been light–to say the least.
Ignoring the various rumors that are out there, it’s pretty clear in talking with the Sounders’ front office they’re not going to be rushed into making a deal without knowing what the CBA rules are. Lagerwey held a conference call to discuss the state of the team leading up to the start of preseason training. He made it clear what the issue is preventing the team from making significant roster moves:
“The real drag is the CBA. We don’t know the rules, we don’t know the money we [will] have. The most important thing for us is not to jeopardize any of the good players we have. We have a very good foundation, and we do not want to be in a position where we have to offload one of the guys that helped us win an MLS Cup or MLS Cups. So we are going to be conservative until that agreement is reached.”Garth Lagerwey
The Sounders currently have 20 players signed (excluding draft picks), and preseason will surely include a number of Tacoma Defiance players, academy players and maybe a trialist or two. The roster is set at most positions–if needing backups–save one: center back.
After the MLS Cup victory, the Sounders parted ways with center backs Jonathan Campbell, Roman Torres and Kim Kee Hee. The options for Campbell and Torres were declined (Torres has since signed with Inter Miami), while Kee Hee was out of contract. Based on the comments from Lagerwey, it appears extremely unlikely Kee Hee will be back:
We’re working on a number of things, we have offers out there to various players and we’ll see who wants to come play for the Sounders. If we reach an agreement then we’ll bring in that player. It’s obviously gone on a long time with Kim [Kee Hee], so we’re assuming he has other options.Garth Lagerwey
Of course, the Sounders won’t be starting CCL play with one true center back (Xavier Arreaga) on the backline; they could play Gustav Svensson or Jordy Delem there in a pinch. But for fans hoping for significant center back reinforcements to pair with Arreaga, you’re likely going to have to wait until the CBA is resolved.
The main problem is that the primary mechanism to bring high-quality players in–Targeted Allocation Money (TAM)–may not be around in the form it is now. Currently, MLS provides $1.2 million in TAM to each team, and there is a further $2.8 million that teams can purchase. It’s not just Lagerwey who has concerns about signing players without knowing what kind of money will be available.
As Lagerwey said, he doesn’t want to be in a position where the team signs a bunch of high-priced players and the new CBA forces the team to jettison players because the budget doesn’t increase as much as he’d hoped. Frankly, that concern doesn’t speak well for those hoping for a significant increase in investment by the owners in the league overall (there is also a report that the league is looking at restricting Designated Player spend).
Sorry for the pessimistic report on the state of the Sounders and MLS. Until we get a CBA, there will be more darkness before the dawn.