Younger and faster.
Those two core tenets helped guide Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders FC General Manager & President of Soccer, through the perilous waters of contract renewal this week. Leaning also on ideals like continuity and talent, Seattle exercised 2016 contract options on 11 players and declined options on nine. With an additional 11 players already under contract for next season, Seattle enters the back half of the week with 21 players on the roster.
That guarantees that there will be more activity during an offseason that’s sure to be a busy one in Seattle.
Nine players are currently being dangled over the Re-Entry Draft deadline: Micheal Azira, Chad Barrett, Andrés Correa, Leo Gonzalez, Marco Pappa, Troy Perkins, Gonzalo Pineda, Zach Scott and Thomás. Five of the nine were over 30 - Scott and Gonzalez were both original 2009 Sounders - while Thomás and Correa couldn’t catch on after less than a full season in Rave Green.
After Lagerwey’s first full year behind the desk in Seattle, he targeted a lack of speed and a overabundance of players on the other side of 30 as guiding lights in directions to prune. Seattle does still have the option of renegotiating contracts with any of these players before they’re dumped into the re-entry pool following a Dec. 10 deadline.
Lagerwey acknowledged on a conference call Wednesday afternoon that he’d like to see a more staggered age group to lessen the impact of a single offseason exodus that could cripple continuity.
“The overall trend is just that we want to move toward younger and faster,” Lagerwey said. “The purpose of that is that we don’t want to put ourselves in a world where, in the next year or two, we have to replace seven or eight starters in one season... When we start nine players age 29 or older in the playoffs, we do need to be mindful of how old the group is, and then try to gradually make that group younger, and give ourselves more runway so we don’t face abrupt changes in the future.”
Perhaps the two most sentimentally challenging moves were those to decline options on Gonzalez and Scott, both of whom had been with Seattle for its entire MLS run and, in Scott’s case, for more than a decade of service. Scott played more minutes in 2015 than ever in his MLS career, while Gonzalez filled in ably at left back.
Continued careers? Retirement? Front office jobs in soccer, or perhaps elsewhere? The future is unclear for two of the 2009’s, but there’s little question the legacy of both is secure.
“It’s their contributions that you measure both on the field and off the field,” Lagerwey said. “It’s part of who we are and part of how we’ve connected with our community. We owe those guys a tip of the cap and as much respect as we can pay them, whether they wind up continuing with their playing careers or doing something else.”
The list itself perhaps didn’t offer many outright surprises, though Pappa’s name might’ve qualified as one of the most severe. Pappa had a part to play on the team this season, and he was involved with the team’s push through the playoffs right up until the end of the season. He filled an important role at times as a late width option or as a tucked in winger who can find the inside edges of the net with pinpoint accuracy.
But the decision to decline the option on the next year of Pappa’s contract had as much to do with economics as anything, according to Lagerwey.
“I think a lot of Marco,” Lagerwey said. “Unfortunately the option placed in his contract was a significant increase over what he made this year. We just felt like it didn’t provide us with the value that we needed. It was a decision we made. The door remains open to try and work something out with Marco.”
As for Correa and Thomás, Lagerwey allowed that fliers on young international players don’t always work out. Correa struggled with injury issues he could never quite clear this season, and he never played a minute for the senior team. Thomás played through the injury-weakened summer and even bagged a goal on Aug. 16 in a 4-0 rout of Orlando City. But he found playing time limited in the midfield when Andreas Ivanschitz and Nelson Valdez hit full health later in the season.
- TICKETS: Get your season tickets for 2016!
The declined options on Pineda and Azira also leave the door wide for fresh blood in the midfield. Azira played sparingly in spot duty mostly as a late option in the defensive midfield, but Pineda was a regular starter for all of 2014 and put in 1,845 minutes this season as a key part of the deep midfield. His partnership with Osvaldo Alonso, who was already under contract for 2016, produced some pleasing passages of soccer over the past two seasons.
Pineda of course could still return, but if the 33-year old does not, that leaves just six midfielders on the roster for 2016. There would almost certainly be some activity between now and the start of the season in March, whether in the Re-Entry Draft or on the international market.
There’s still plenty ahead of Seattle this postseason, but Lagerwey’s push to get both younger and faster is well underway.