The Sounders took off for Quebec Thursday still looking for lineup answers that could solve the team’s recent poor run of form as they prepare to face the Montreal Impact Saturday. The Seattle team that led the race for the Supporters’ Shield in mid-June has lost five of the last six matches, and may be looking to a new addition to help get the season back on track.
With the summer transfer window open, questions have been raised in recent days as to whether the Sounders may look to secure a big-name player. Such a signing is made possible by the new “targeted allocation money,” a rule change to the current designated player system that was announced in early July.
In essence, the change would allow the Sounders to use their allocation money to buy down DP Osvaldo Alonso’s contract — whose base salary is just shy of $750,000 a year, via by the MLS Players Union — freeing up a DP slot for a high-wage player.
Whether the Sounders will utilize their allocation money this way, and who they would target, remain mysteries.
“We are busily working on some deals,” Sounders FC owner Adrian Hanauer said Friday regarding the transfer window. “We’re confident that we’re working on some exciting things that will make our team better. If (Clint Dempsey or Obafemi Martins are) off the field, we need to be able to score goals and entertain our fans.”
General manager Garth Lagerway echoed that sentiment, when he said July 14 that the team was looking to secure the sort of player who was “goal-dangerous,” though he clarified that that could mean a forward or midfielder.
If the Sounders are seeking a new DP, a forward seems an unlikely choice. Neither Martins nor Dempsey have a playing style suited to attacking from the wing, as they would in a 4-3-3, and it seems unlikely that a big-name forward would come to Seattle to engage in a mid-season position battle for a starting spot up top.
Some sources have linked the Sounders to talks with midfielder and Italian Serié A veteran Cristian Ledesma, but it is unclear if there is any foundation to the rumors. The front office has remained tight-lipped.
In the meantime, Seattle must make do with what they have available. Problems executing on the field have been compounded by player availability woes that bring to mind Murphy’s Law — anything that could go wrong, has.
First Martins suffered a groin injury that he is still recovering from in a disastrous Sounders loss to Portland in the Open Cup. The same match saw Dempsey suspended for three league matches after tearing up the official’s rulebook. Dempsey served his suspension, only to depart alongside Brad Evans to represent USMNT in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, where they remain until the conclusion of the third-place match against Panama on Saturday.
The third Sounder to play in the Gold Cup was Guatemalan international Marco Pappa, whose return to the team lasted 26 minutes as a substitute before he was arrested for DUI early Sunday morning and barred from playing pending a league investigation.
Also absent is goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who sprained his shoulder against D.C. United and is listed as questionable for Saturday.
The players that have taken to the pitch have shown marked improvement in possession and holding position in the midfield as they attempted to adapt to the missing personnel. Despite this, Seattle has failed to convert on its offensive opportunities.
“We’re talking about the final 30 yards of the field,” coach Sigi Schmid said Tuesday. “We’ve got to be a little sharper, a little more quality and create a few more chances.”
Lamar Neagle said that staying focused was the best way for his team to break their slump.
“I think you have to get back to your foundations and your faith, and start to build up from there,” Neagle said after practice Tuesday. “You don’t want to get too up when you’re winning and you’re in first place, and you don’t want to get too down when you go through a drought. So I think trying to keep a level head and level confidence is the key to such a long season.”
With Chad Barrett benched against Colorado, Neagle was shifted to center forward in a 4-3-3. Despite making dangerous runs, he was caught offside several times, including during a play that saw a Seattle goal waved off for his violation.
“My timing has to be a lot better,” Neagle said regarding his new position. “When I’m an outside mid I have a lot more room to run before I’m offside. When I’m right on top of the last guy I have to make more looping runs. It’s just something that I have to work on.”
The Impact may prove a tough nut to crack for Neagle and the Sounders. Montreal is 5-2-1 at home this season, but one of those losses was to the Sounders March 23. Montreal’s most dangerous player is the Argentinian Ignacio Piatti, who has scored six goals and notched four assists in 16 starts.
With no apparent new player charging over the horizon to plug the gaps, the Sounders may well have to get gritty if they are to take any points away from the harsh atmosphere in la belle province.