Two games. No goals. No wins.
Should the Sounders panic? No. But it’s becoming evident the current strike force — led by Fredy Montero — lacks some lethality.
So far, for 2011, no forward or winger has scored a goal — other than the Community Shield match against Colorado Rapids. That’s 11 matches without scoring a goal in the run of play against MLS teams — preseason and regular season. University of Central Florida doesn’t count.
The reality, at this juncture, suggests the club still lacks something extra to push them over the top — perhaps, a marquee player to win them games. Or perhaps they lack a cold, calculating and clinical finisher.
Put another way: the Sounders need someone big — someone DP BIG — someone who goes by the name of Diego Forlan kinda big — the Uruguayan National team and Atletico Madrid forward. He knows how to score goals in the best leagues in the world.
Or, find another player of similar caliber.
Either way, a player of Forlan’s exquisite skill would cost a cool $10 million a season based on the current economics. But put Forlan next to Montero and suddenly the Sounders look unstoppable.
It begins to look like the perfect strike partnership — on paper. Forlan, the crafty veteran technician who can kill with a sharp pass as well with the power of his strike, partnering with the young, precocious Montero, oozing with offensive talent, injecting his own emerging cleverness and appetite for goals.
It is an intriguing $10 million dollar proposition but a paradoxical one for the Sounders. It most certainly fulfills the desires of the owners — who have publicly stated they want to win a championship this season. What’s more, the exit of DP-forward Blaise Nkufo gives the club a third DP option.
True, it does come at a steep price — and it comes with no guarantees for the Sounders front office. Like the David Beckham experiment, injuries can happen. Or in the Freddie Ljungberg experiment, the wrong attitude can dampen the talent. Still, the talent is out there for the plucking — it’s just going to cost some big coin to attract it.
Can they afford it? Probably yes. The Sounders averaged a record 36,173 for each one of the 16 MLS home matches — including one playoff game against LA Galaxy. Conservative back-of-the-envelope economics suggests gate receipts total more than $20 million per season. This does not include U.S. Open Cup, CONCACAF Champion’s League, international friendlies or sponsorships and apparel sales.
The salary cap limits the club’s annual player wage expense to just $2.6 million. But front-office expense and DP-player expense, and other salary-expense loopholes, probably puts the annual wage bill closer to $5 million, maybe higher. Either way, Sounders do have some financial flexibility to think big about attracting a big player — but the right one.
As luck would have it, Forlan, 31, the former Manchester United and Villareal forward, is shopping around. Forlan, who most commonly has been linked with a return to the Premier League and Tottenham Hotspurs, said last week in an interview with Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport that he would listen to offers from Serie A sides.
The intriguing question is whether he would he listen to serious offers from MLS sides like the Seattle Sounders? Rumors swirled earlier about Forlan expressing interest in Seattle — probably partly fueled by the fact his World Cup teammate Alvaro Fernandez currently plays for the Sounders as a DP.
He is certainly entertaining offers. Here’s what he told the Italian newspaper: ”I do not exclude that in the future, if a good offer came to me and the club, a proposal that was not only suitable economically but also from the perspective that it was an important club, (then) I would accept.”
Forlan fits what the Sounders are looking for. Talk about calculating — he is Mr. Cool Under Pressure–striking double digits and beyond — every season in the EPL or La Liga since 2003 when Manchester United paid $11 million in 2002 to bring him to Old Trafford.
He is a goal-scoring machine. He twice won La Liga’s scoring title, scoring 25 goals 2004/2005 season and putting away 32 in 2008/2009 season. He scored both goals as Atletico Madrid beat Fulham 2-1 in the 2010 Europa League final.
Twice, he’s scored more than 20 goals in a season, and every year in La Liga, Forlan has finished with more than 15 goals. The exception is last year, where he tapped in just eight in La Liga but 17 in all competitions. He compensated by scoring five goals in the South African World Cup and capturing the Golden Ball for being the top player.
Said ESPN: “A lethal finisher with either foot, Forlan is also capable of the spectacular and his excellent work-rate marks him out as a rare striker, who is both a ruthless predator and a team player.”
Smart money has wagered Forlan going to Tottenham. But in January 2011, Hotspurs Coach Harry Redknapp told English media a move was very unlikely, acknowledging that the player’s wage demands were too high.
“Diego Forlan has been mentioned but we are not going to get near their wages,” Redknapp said. “They are on £100,000 plus a week — they are not going to come here. The chairman would not be paying £100,000 or more a week to players that is for sure.”
That translates to about $8.5 million a year. That might be too much for the Sounders, and Forlan might dismiss the MLS standard of play. But if someone dangles the right amount of money, then Forlan could be interested.
Forlan is in his prime but he is heading into his twilight years. Even this season, he has scored just eight goals in 27 games, adding five assists. So, if Tottenham is turning away that leaves Italy. But the Italian leagues remain financially shaky and not nearly as attractive as they once were. Still, Forlan will go there if the money and circumstances are good.
It’s very possible he could make the same decision about the Sounders. But they’d have to make a significant financial offer.
Meantime, the equally relevant question is whether the Sounders’ current forwards will start scoring goals? Probably yes, but maybe not with the kind of regularity and aplomb that many fans are expecting. That could trigger an immediate mood dampener if the strikers fall into an early-season slump. Everyone feels it, senses it, but is unable to come forward and utter it.
SPNW colleague Steve Rudman’s analysis of MLS shutouts and goal differential underscores Seattle’s needs for a proven striker. Read his column — Nobody Asks But Us: Sounders & Shutouts.
But this recurring theme — to finish or not to finish — extends beyond this season and to the playoff series with Los Angeles. This recurring theme suggests the current strikers may not have the punch and the power to take the club to the coveted next level — winning the MLS Cup.
Forward O’Brian White shows glimpses of brilliance in front of the box. He can hold up the ball, distribute to wingers and has power and pace. But he has yet to prove he can score goals under pressure in professional soccer’s highest league — Major League Soccer. Nate Jaqua remains in the same boat. He is not a proven goal scorer of 15-20 goals per MLS season that owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer would like to see from his forwards. Hanauer has not ruled out another acquisition — including a possible third DP before the end of the season.
The only one who can match Forlan is Montero. But his numbers pale compared to Forlan — who has produced 20- and 30-goal seasons in arguably one of the toughest leagues in the world. Montero, on the other hand, scored 10 goals and had 10 assists last year, and led the club with 12 goals and seven assists in its inaugural year. Respectable, for sure, but even the young Colombian has not reached Forlan’s level yet.
But the pressure is on for the club to win a league title this season. For White and Jaqua, that might be too much pressure to handle. Or maybe one of them exceeds expectations and starts to consistently bury his shots. That’s always possible. It is equally true, however, that Montero cannot be expected to do it alone despite his best intentions.
That’s not to say the Sounders will have a losing season. Sure, Seattle will win its share of games this season. The club stands better-than-even odds of advancing to the playoffs in October. The overall squad is stronger than last year.
But if Sounders supporters and front office want to win a Major League Soccer Championship this season, right now, with this team, then expect to be disappointed. Unless, of course, they pony up — or get lucky.