So far this offseason, the Sounders have lost players to retirement, to the Major League Soccer expansion draft, to the English Premier League and the general crash of contracts colliding with salary caps.
It’s the dreary part of the MLS calendar: goodbye to goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, off to retirement; goodbye to defender DeAndre Yedlin, off to Tottenham Hotspur; goodbye to defender Jalil Anibaba, off to Orlando City in the expansion draft and then off again to Sporting Kansas City in a trade.
But there is good news for those who don’t like goodbyes: Here come the hellos.
That process could begin at noon Thursday, when MLS holds the second phase of its re-entry draft. The Sounders sat out the first phase on Friday – as did all but three of the 20 MLS clubs.
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However, increased contract flexibility makes the second phase more active. And it’s also the phase that paid off well for the Sounders in 2013 when they snagged Chad Barrett from New England.
When the re-entry draft closes, a trade window will open leading to the SuperDraft on Jan. 15. Between those two dates last offseason (Dec. 18-Jan. 21), the Sounders made seven transactions including extended or new contracts for Lamar Neagle, Tristan Bowen and Hahnemann, and the signings of Barrett and homegrown players Aaron Kovar and Sean Okoli. The club loaned Clint Dempsey to Fulham. It also traded for Anibaba.
“I think it’s going to be a busy next few weeks,” sporting director Chris Henderson said. “… Now it’s about refining our team and looking at our biggest needs, and where we need to spend the money to improve our team.”
In terms of sheer numbers, the biggest needs are on the back end, where there are no reserves behind goalkeeper Stefan Frei due to the retirement of Hahnemann and the decision to decline the contract of Josh Ford.
Along the back line, defensive player of the year Chad Marshall returns, as does left back Leo Gonzalez, who dodged the bullet of the expansion draft. However, there are questions at center back and right back – each aggravated by the loss of Anibaba, who played both spots.
Just days before the expansion draft, coach Sigi Schmid had listed Anibaba as one potential option for filling the starting right back position vacated by Yedlin. The other choice he mentioned was Brad Evans, who has played right back for the U.S. national team but has primarily been a midfielder with the Sounders.
Also ominously open is the center back spot alongside Marshall. Last season, that was filled by a rotation of Anibaba, Zach Scott and Djimi Traore. But now Anibaba is gone, while Traore is considering retirement, and Scott is facing foot surgery.
The Sounders seemed to signal their belief that Scott can contribute when they protected him from the expansion draft once Anibaba was taken. However, he’s 34, so that spot seems certain to be reinforced, whether for the first 11 or depth.
All of the key guys return at midfield and forward. But there could be a depth issue at midfield, especially if Evans moves to right back.
That probably takes precedence over forward, where the only real issue is age. Obafemi Martins, Clint Dempsey and Kenny Cooper are all 30 or older, and Barrett will join them by spring. But the serious work of freshening that position seems likely to put off a year or two.