Taken individually, the Seattle Sounders' three moves on Tuesday might seem like routine league minutia, but taken together, they could prove to be hugely significant for the upcoming season.
In addition to signing SuperDraft pick Tony Alfaro and loaning defender Damion Lowe to Minnesota, the Sounders acquired Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) and an international slot from Toronto FC in exchange for General Allocation Money (GAM).
Per league policy, the actual amounts of TAM and GAM exchanged weren’t disclosed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t break down what the deal means – namely, that the Sounders now have a clearer path to make a significant foreign signing this season.
But before we get too much into what this means for Seattle’s future, let’s first take a look back. The Sounders entered the 2015 season with the league limit of three Designated Players on their roster in Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Osvaldo Alonso. Then, the league introduced TAM in the summer, allowing clubs to:
A) Sign a new player or re-sign an existing player to a contract that earns more than the maximum salary budget hit of $457,500 but less than $1 million without that player taking up a DP slot.
B) Free up a Designated Player slot by buying down a DP contract to under the maximum, non-DP salary budget charge of $457,500. If a club does this, they must simultaneously sign a new Designated Player at an investment equal to or greater than the player he is replacing as a DP.
The Sounders took advantage of both mechanisms last year. They started with Option B, using TAM to free up Alonso’s DP slot and simultaneously signing Nelson Valdez to a DP contract. They pulled out Option A less than a week later, using TAM to sign Panamanian international Roman Torres to a non-DP deal.
They still had the league limit of three DPs on the roster, but the deck had been shuffled. Dempsey, Martins and Valdez took up the DP slots, while Alonso and Torres both made more than the max budget charge but didn’t count as DPs.
With all those costly players on board, Seattle looked pretty maxed out entering the 2015 offseason. Then a couple of moves changed the game. First was the league announcement in December that each club would be given an extra $800,000 of TAM. Second was the February transfer of Martins to the Chinese Super League.
Suddenly, a team that looked like they had little room to play with had opened up a bunch. Martins’ departure freed up a Designated Player slot, which the Sounders have publicly discussed using on Alonso, whose actual salary hasn’t changed through any of this, just his roster classification. If they do decide to move him back to DP status, something I’d bet will happen, Seattle would again have the league maximum of three DPs on their roster.
While they would have three DPs on the books, moves like Tuesday’s mean the Sounders wouldn’t be prevented from acquiring another high-salary player this year if Alonso is re-classified.
They could use the TAM acquired in December’s league-wide infusion, Tuesday’s trade and an earlier offseason move that sent forward Lamar Neagle to D.C. to buy down Alonso and sign a new DP. That’s how they got Valdez last season. Alternatively, they could keep Alonso classified as a DP and use their TAM to acquire another player like Torres, a non-DP making between $457,500 and $1 million.
They could also use some of their cash to give existing players a raise. Or they could choose to simply stand pat.
Exactly what they do is a bit beside the point, however. The main thing is that transactions like Tuesday’s have given the Sounders a good deal of roster flexibility. That’s a huge positive for a club that is more than capable of landing big stars and no laughing matter for the rest of MLS.