Seattle Sounders: Logistics of a Youth Movement

The third and final installment in my Seattle Sounders ch-ch-changes series will focus on the logistics of Seattle’s roster reshaping.

Yedlin is gone, to begin with. Seattle’s first Home Grown Player and the first HGP to ever play in a World Cup has unofficially officially played his last game in Rave Green.

GM Adrian Hanauer and co. are already buys preparing for the future. Sounders FC extended coach Sigi Schmid yesterday keeping the club under the direction of a solid steward. The front office will now busy itself with the inevitable roster churn: filling out the USL Pro’s S2 roster, weathering the expansion draft and adapting to the new CBA.

The second order of business was to announce a roster shakeup with 8 players passively released from contract: Marcus Hahnemann, Djimi Traore, Cam Weaver, Jalil Anibaba, Tristan Bowen, Eriq Zavaleta, Onyekachi Apam and Sean Okoli. Some of those players were long in the tooth and their release was no surprise. Hahnemann, after more than two decades, retired from professional soccer where he started. Traore, after a long and illustrious career, is also retiring and rumor has him transitioning to a front office or coaching position with Sounders FC. Weaver and Anibaba are journeymen veterans who couldn’t find many minutes with the first team here. Apam was a speculative signing late in the season that didn’t pan out. The surprising names are Bowen, Okoli and Zavaleta. All of these players are now no longer members of the Sounders senior team.

S2 would appear to be the next destination for these players. Hopefully Djimi and Hahnemann slide over to S2 as coaches. Okoli, Zavaleta, and Bowen are all 23 or younger and, having earned some first-team MLS minutes, would be the senior members of the junior team. If Seattle had S2 last year, Zavaleta would’ve never been a Goat. Bowen, though seasoned, is still very young and very talented. He’s a Merlin-esque player, his career is almost moving backwards, as the league’s first HGP who could finally find himself on a developmental team six years into his career.

Okoli has the most curious situation. Okoli left Wake Forest and signed an off-the-books HGP contract with Seattle. Let me explain. According to the current CBA, teams are allowed to sign as many HGPs as they like. Regular HGPs are paid close to the league minimum but the perks of signing a player to an HGP contract is to prevent the player from being eligible in the MLS Super Draft. Currently there are about 80 current MLS players signed as HGPs. However two of those HGPs, per year, can be signed to more lucrative contracts that don’t count against the salary cap. These off-the-books HGP contracts are powerful bargaining tools when signing a player. Yedlin and Okoli previously occupied Seattle’s two such contracts.

Okoli has just been released from his contract making room, ostensibly, for Darwin Jones and Jordan Morris to sign as the off-the-books HGPs. Smart clubs want to reserve their precious few off-the-books contracts for potential starters. Signing Yedlin to a free contract was a coup for the Sounders. As a two-time All-Star not eating into precious cap space, Yedlin gave Seattle a real competitive advantage. Seattle’s hoping Morris proves the same. Okoli ceding his contract gives the club the bargaining power of the limited contracts, and, presumably, in return he will now sign a more lucrative contract with the USL Pro-affiliated S2. How the new CBA treats transfers and contract reciprocity between the two leagues remains to be seen.

What about Aaron Kovar you ask? He was signed to a regular HGP contract last year and has been retained as such. Victor Mansaray recently signed a HGP contract as well and we can assume it’s the regular type. Mansaray, at only 17, should immediately be shuffled over to S2 to develop.

Seattle is brewing a veritable youth movement as Jimmy Ockford, Aaron Long, Damien Lowe and Kevin Parsemain are still under contract. It’s hard to think of the 2014 Sounders in the past tense. But looking ahead to Morris, Okoli, Kovar and Jones repping the crest for the next decade is some solace.

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