Meet Your New 2017 Sounders

The MLS season is a long one, running a full 9 months from early March to early December. So before the ink was even dry on the papers forever documenting the 2016 Sounders MLS Cup win, the wheels of progress were underway to form the 2017 version. Many of the players who played a decent sized role in the title run found themselves trading their Rave Green uniforms for flights back to their home countries. Meanwhile, a new set of Sounders filled out change of address forms, and made plans to move to Seattle.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the turnstyle over the last 3 months. (For a full review, read this article from SounderAtHeart.)

Who’s Out?

The MLS has some pretty onerous salary cap rules. Add in 2 new expansion teams this year in Minnesota and Atlanta, and it makes it hard to keep a team together. Here are the 18 names you won’t see wearing a Sounders uniform this year:

  • Nelson Valdez (released because he was too expensive and signed with a team in Paraguay)
  • Tyrone Mears (released and signed by Atlanta)
  • Dylan Remick (released and redrafted by Houston)
  • Erik Friberg (released and signed by a team in Sweden)
  • Andreas Ivanschitz (released and signed by a team in the Czech league)
  • Zack Scott (retired)
  • Herculez Gomez (retired)
  • Some guys you may or may not recognize were also released and signed with minor league teams (or retired): Darwin Jones, Charlie Lyon, Jimmy Ockford, Victor Mansaray (loaned out) Michael Farfan (retired), Nathan Sturgis (still unsigned), Oalex Anderson (still unsigned)

Who’s New?

New Sounders are often guys we’ve never heard of. So, for these 8 new players, I’m sharing the 0-100 ratings the video game FIFA 2017 gives them.

  • Clint Dempsey, F, (Back from Disabled List): 80
  • Gustav Svensson Mid, / Def (from Sweden and Chinese League): 72
  • Will Bruin, F, (from Houston): 69
  • Harry Shipp, Mid, (from Montreal): 68
  • Bryan Meredith, GK, (from San Jose): 61
  • Nouhou Tolo, Def, (Sounders 2): NR
  • Henry Wingo, Mid, / Def (Homegrown): NR
  • Seyi Adekoya, F, (Homegrown): NR

Who’s Back:

Check and make sure your favorite players are still here. Just 14 remain from the team that won in Toronto, but 9 of them started that night.

  • Tony Alfaro, Def: 62
  • Osvaldo Alonso, Mid: 79
  • Brad Evans, Def / Mid: 70
  • Alvaro Fernandez, Mid:  70
  • Oniel Fisher, Def: 61
  • Stefan Frei, GK: 73
  • Joevin Jones, Def: 66
  • Aaron Kovar, Mid: 62
  • Nicolas Lodeiro, Mid: 78
  • Chad Marshall, Def: 74
  • Tyler Millar, GK: 58
  • Jordan Morris, For / Mid: 68
  • Cristian Roldan, Mid: 65
  • Roman Torres, Def: 72

Now I’m no math genius, but if you lose 18 players and add 8, you should still have some roster space available. In fact, an MLS team can carry 28 players on their roster at one time, so since the Sounders only have 22 on the current sheet, logic dictates you’ll see 4-6 more players either get signed from Sounders 2, or come in a late transfer window signing. The primary MLS transfer window runs from Feb 18 – May 11.  Then, the secondary one opens from July 10 – August 9.

The Sounders still do have one ‘Designated Player” spot available, meaning they can essentially sign a player for any amount of money they want and not have it hit the salary cap. (Dempsey and Lodeiro are the other two. Valdez was the 3rd, so they cut him to get that Designated Player spot back.)

So there you go; that’s your 2017 Sounders squad. See you at Century Link.

A Few Thoughts About Sigi Schmid

It’s the end of an era. Quite literally.

The Seattle Sounders have only known one head coach in all their days. Through 250 MLS matches, a host of playoff games and some lengthy runs through the U.S. Open Cup and Champions League, Sigi Schmid has been the only man driving the bus. And now that ride has ended.

While Sigi was alone in compiling 115 wins, 69 losses and 66 draws from 2009-1016, the Seattle Mariners are now on a 5th manager to pull them out of their 573-660 streak.

Sigi will get criticism for not winning the MLS Cup, a compliant that seemed to heat up after the Seahawks got their ring three Super Bowls ago. And the cry of, “Well we’re still an expansion team” fell on deaf ears as soon as the hatred Portland Timbers raised the cup ahead of the Sounders. At that point, the knives were out.

But Is 2016 Sigi’s Fault?

The Sounders had a run of bad luck last year that stretched them thin, so they stocked up on some guys who were supposed to plug the holes and then provide depth in 2016. At this time this year, here is what the Sounders lineup was “supposed” to look like:

Forwards: Starters: Obafemi Martins, Dempsey, Valdez. Bench: Jordan Morris.
Mids: Alonso, Evans, Ivanschitz. Bench: Kovar, Roldan, Friberg.
Def: Mears, Torres, Marshall, Jones. Bench: Scott, Remick.

Instead, Torres is hurt and Martins is sitting on a bench in China. Dempsey missed a month on National team duty. The Sounders were trotting out a lineup of role players and hoping Jordan Morris could dramatically exceed any reasonable expectation of a rookie. Evans got shoved back to defense and couldn’t contribute on offense. When Dempsey was here, he had no one to pass to. The team was so slow that defenses could push high up the field and pressure guys like Scott into turning it over in front of goal.

A lot of things went wrong this year, and I’m not sure if any coach could make that lineup work. The Sigi detractors have a fair point – that with the players we ended up with, he stubbornly stuck to a formation that didn’t seem to fit them. It’s really a double edged sword. If he was switching formations every few games (the way we all would playing FIFA on XBox) and it didn’t work, we’d be yelling about that.

And so that leaves Sounderland in a little bit of a quandary. Sigi was “our guy” from the get go. Adrian is “our guy.” GM Garth Lagerway is a Real Salt Lake guy. “Our guy” took a fall because the coaching staff and management team couldn’t get results in 2016 with the product they put together. Now we have to trust in Lagerway to find the right players and the right coach.

I’ll miss Sigi. I’ll miss wondering how a guy who spends every day on a soccer field and eating meals specially prepared by a scientific driven training team could possibly weigh in at 3 bills. I’ll miss standing behind the bench trying to figure out what crazy substitution is coming next.

But this is a reminder that nothing lasts forever. The storybook start to the Sounders franchise, with Sigi leading us to a 3-1 win over New York, still hasn’t had the magical payoff moment we’ve been waiting for. I hope it comes soon enough that Schmid’s fingerprints are still on the team. I hope we get to see Brad Evans and Ozzie Alonso lift a cup and we can remember Sigi’s original influence.

So long sir. I feel lucky that we had you take the reins at the beginning and lead us to where we are today. Best of luck in whatever challenge you take on next.

Did the MLS Playoff System Work, to the Detriment of the Sounders?

This may be a stretch.. but I think the MLS playoff structure did its job in the Sounders vs FC Dallas series.

– The Sounders had to field the best 11 they had for the last game of the season vs RSL, to ensure they made the playoffs.
– By finishing 4th, they then had to play again that Wednesday in a winner take all match vs LA Galaxy, so they had to field their best 11 again on 2 days rest, or rest a couple of guys and take their chances.
– Predictably, as an older team, this led to small injuries that over the course of a season would be recoverable, but in the case of the playoffs, was not.
– So Dallas, already built younger, goes into the series with 7 days rest vs our 3. We got the win in game 1, but we were clearly taxed at the end.
– Now we roll Oba and Dempsey out again for game 2. That’s Game #4 in 14 days for these guys. I think our 30+ year olds at the end of a 40 game season were simply tired vs a bunch of 25 year olds who had one less game to play.
– Thus, the system worked. Dallas was rewarded for having a better record. And that slight edge got them to the next round.

Trying to Decipher MLS Transfer Rules

Here’s something about MLS I don’t quite understand. DeAndre Yedlin could be headed to Anderlecht of the Belgian League. A friend of mine who knows a ton about soccer asked this series of questions:

Is this a big step up for Yedlin? I’m sure he’d get a raise, but I’m sure he could get a raise in MLS too. But in terms of advancing his career, does it make sense to go to a second tier (or third, or fourth?) Europe league? Or should he try to get a decent MLS salary after this year, and wait until England calls And what would the Sounders get out of this? Do they get any of the transfer fee? Do they get to set the transfer fee? Are we just out of luck? And we’re full on designated players too, right? So even if we got a ton of cash, we can’t really use it, right?

Here’s what I think I know. Please correct me if you know better.

1) Whether or not the play in Belgium is better than the MLS, there’s the perception in Europe that the play in the Dutch, Turkish, Norwegian, Belgian and Portuguese leagues is better than the MLS.

2) It’s easier for a Premier League, Spanish League, German League, Italian League or French League scout to catch a game in Belgium than Seattle.

3) The top teams in all the 2nd tier Europe Leagues at least get to compete in some round of the Champions League. Anderlecht won the Belgian First Division in 2013-2014, and are one of 22 teams to have already qualified for the Final 32 of the Champions League. That’s nice exposure he wouldn’t get here.

4) The MLS technically owns all the contracts of all the players. Essentially, the MLS is a giant talent agency that hosts matches in which to show off the talent they’ve recruited. Part of their revenue model is to find cheap players and develop them into players that other teams want to buy. They need the old guys to drive fans, but the real money is buying young guys low and selling high. It’s another reason the league wants parity and would rather have all the best players split amongst the teams to get playing time rather than having some great players sitting on the Sounders bench behind Dempsey and Martins for 34 games

5) There’s some sort of revenue split between the MLS and the team who scouts and signs the player. Not sure what it is.

6) MLS sets the transfer fee. I believe the team has some input based on whether they think the team and league would generate more revenue if they held the player another year.

7) Sounders would get some cash, but all it would do is help the ownership group. We can’t reinvest it into a higher salary cap.

Bottom line, the more Yedlins the league develops, the more revenue the league makes, the more revenue the teams split, the more designated players the teams can afford to have on each roster, the higher salary cap each team can have, and the more talent we can recruit to the league, which makes it easier to get the next Yedlin to play here, etc…

Let me know if you have more insight.

 

Soccer Supporters Groups Could Affect The 2022 World Cup – If They Cared Enough

Sports fans across the globe generally share a single problem – they really can’t affect any change in the leagues or even their teams.  Seattle Mariners fans may universally despise management for 10 straight years without making the playoffs, but they don’t have a way to remove the CEO. Some people may hate the way Roger Goodell runs his football mafia, but there’s not another league of gridiron superstars to support. As a fan, you take what you are given or find a new hobby.

But this isn’t necessarily the case in soccer. While it would take organization of historic proportions to get hardcore Mariners fans to build any kind of impactful protest, this organization already exists in soccer, in the form of Supporter Groups.

Supporter Groups, such as the Emerald City Supporters, can mobilize hundreds or even thousands of people. They often have a hierarchy and organizational structure that rivals a successful non-profit.  They communicate among each other, have dialogue with team management, share best practices with each other and have followers who will act as directed.

No one was happy when Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup. It was an obvious result of international bribery, blackmail, payoffs and back room deals, executed with a level of precision that NBA COMMISSIONER David Stern WOULD ADMIRE. And throughout the predictable controversy that inevitably became reality (wait, playing soccer in 130 degree heat is a bad idea?), there wasn’t anything that was worth an international boycott.

And then we found out that 4,000 people will die in the next 8 years building the stadiums.  We also learned that the “lucky” ones who survive are basically being enslaved in stifling, inhumane conditions. 

The world soccer community (DID ALL THINK THAT?) went from thinking, “This Qatar World Cup is a bad idea that I have to live with,” to “Damn, I’ll be sitting in a seat someone died to build, so some rich guy could get paid.”

If the global soccer community cared enough, it *could* do something about this. It’s the one sport that could organize a global protest. Here’s what it would take.

1) Supporters Groups of local teams in national leagues such as MLS, Premier League, La Liga, etc… individually would have to agree to support the idea that killing and enslaving people is bad. It’s key that the protests come from the Club Supporters groups, not the national groups (like Sam’s Army) at first, because national teams would fear retribution from FIFA if their supporters organized anything. Plus, you don’t want it IT CAN’T look like the U.S. Supporters Groups are organizing a political protest against the Middle East. It has to be country-agnostic. But keep in mind, members of Club Supporters groups often also support their national teams.

2) Then, the supporters groups in each league could galvanize together with one representative force from each league.  Arsenal and Tottenham fans hate each other so much when it comes to soccer, that is pretty powerful when they agree on anything.

3) If globally, members of Club Supporters groups agree to protest something like a FIFA World Cup Qualifying match, a week of friendlies or some other set of matches, it would make world news, and FIFA would have to take this seriously. Even FIFA didn’t want to take it seriously, brands that advertise with FIFA – McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Heineken, etc.. would have to take it seriously.  Multinational companies do not want to be on the wrong end of a global protest. So even if the groups didn’t want to boycott the matches, just threatening to boycott the advertisers en masse would create a massive headache that would have to be dealt with.

We’re talking about people protesting the killing of others to build stadiums, not whether there should be instant replay or a ban on if we need to limit flopping. It would be kind of hard for FIFA to turn a blind eye and ear to a global protest on mass murder.

This is something that could happen. Three to four 3-4 years of protesting, led by the Supporters Groups, could cause change. There are plenty of countries with the infrastructure to prepare for a 2022 World Cup with 4-5 years of notice. The question is whether the Supporters Groups care enough to do it.

September 7 Will Be Chaos Downtown

I’m not sure how this is even possible, but my Google Calendar says it’s true, so it must be right.

Saturday Sept 7…

The Mariners are at home for a game that starts at 6:10 (See proof here.)
The Sounders play across the street at 7:05 (See proof here.)

Mariners games usually take 2:45 – 3:00 hours. Sounders games by definition take 1:45 (90 minutes plus 15 minutes for halftime).

That means 2 stadiums full of people, across the street from each other, will empty out at EXACTLY the same time, on a Saturday Night. I guess the total will still be slightly less than a Seahawks game, but it still seems like an invitation for chaos.

So What is the Next Xbox/Sounders Sponsorship Worth?

It’s hard to think back to 2008, back before the Seattle Sounders officially existed in anything more than everyone’s imagination.

The Sounders were to become the 16th team in a league with a couple of marquee names in David Beckham and Landon Donovan. LA, DC and Toronto were the only teams to draw more than 18k fans a game.

So when the Sounders announced that Xbox was going to commit $20 Million bucks to the team and the league, it really seemed like – and was – a large sum of money to risk.

But now as we look at the end of the 3rd year of the deal, it’s the Sounders who can’t wait for the contract to expire. Unfortunately for them, they still have 2 more years of the deal. When you look back, the Xbox media team made a heck of a deal.

At $20 Million over 5 years, you are looking at a deal that is only $4 million a year. For that 4 million Xbox got rights to the front of the jerseys, signage in all MLS stadiums, naming rights to Xbox Pitch at Qwest (then Century Link) Field, and TV spots on all broadcasts.

Let’s look at some of the other deals in the MLS (sourced from The Brotherly Game):

  • Red Bulls: Red Bull @ $50 Million total, including stadium naming rights. But they also own the team.
  • Real Salt Lake: Xango @ $5MM per year.
  • Galaxy: Herbalife @ $3.5 – $5MM per year.
  • DC United: Volkswagen @ $3MM per year. (A few other deals are in this range, like Philly/Bimbo, San Jose / Amway.)
  • So if we assume the national value to the Sounders sponsor is roughly the same as the value any other team’s sponsor receives, the delta is in the value at home. So lets say maybe 1/2 – 2/3 the value is in national exposure, and 1/3 – 1/2 is in local. If that’s the case, then the national value is about $2 million for each team.

    So in those terms, the local value of DC United’s sponsorship would be about $1 Million per year. For Salt Lake, it’s $3 Million per year. Now the 38,500 fans per game in Seattle just about doubles everyone but the #2 LA Galaxy at 23,000 per game. So if the Sounders drive 2x more fans than Salt Lake, and 2x the TV impressions, you’d have to estimate the local value is at least $6 Million per year (2x Salt Lake).

    There are probably more scientific ways to figure this out, but we don’t have access to impression volumes, jersey sales and hard stats. And we haven’t included the premium that Xbox pays for being the local guys recruiting employees, and the international value of having the team play across Central America and Mexico, or the fact that they’ve gotten a smoking deal the last 3 years.

    So let’s ballpark a number of $9 Million per year to start the new deal in 2014. ($2 Million National Value, $6 Million Local value, $1 Million Premium.) How does that look?