We’re likely just days away from the Sounders announcing their biggest player addition in two years, with Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz set to ink a multi-year pact that will see him begin playing here late next month.
But while two-time Liga MX scoring champ Ruidiaz will be coming over on an eight-figure deal that includes a transfer fee payment to his Monarcas Morelia squad plus yearly salary, the Sounders last weekend had already started adding big money to their on-field product. For the first time since last fall, they had all of their designated players (DP) and nearly all of their targetted allocation money (TAM) players — with Roman Torres the lone exception — on the field at the same time.
Nicolas Lodeiro and Victor Rodriguez both returned from prolonged injury layoffs to give the Sounders roughly a $3.4 million boost during a Saturday night victory over D.C. United. That’s already more money than is expected to paid annually to Ruidiaz once his deal — first reported on by Niko Moreno of the Sounder at Heart website — is officially done.
“It felt really good,” Rodriguez said of getting on the field with Lodeiro for the first time this season. “It’s always easier when you’re able to play with good players like Noco (Lodeiro), like Clint (Dempsey) and like Ozzie (Alonso). It’s always easier and for me it’s a pleasure.”
Also, a pleasure for the Sounders, who visit New York Red Bulls on Wednesday in their final match before the World Cup break, since their entire team payroll is only $11.3 million and about two thirds of it has gone unused much of the year due to injuries and suspensions. The aforementioned Dempsey and Alonso are earning about $2.8 million between them. Dempsey has been held without a goal thus far, with minimal talent on the field to feed him balls in scoring position. And Alonso has barely gotten on the field due to two different quad muscle injuries, though he saw enough second half minutes against D.C. to notch an assist on the decisive goal.
“It was very important,” Alonso said of the win. “Because at home, we need to get the three points no matter what. Now, we have to look forward to the next one.”
Indeed, the Sounders, at 3-7-2 and 11 points on the season, need to start securing more victories ahead of Ruidiaz getting here if they want to salvage their season. The Sounders now take on a strong Red Bulls side, at 7-4-2, and will be hard-pressed to come up with any points at all.
From there, following a 10-day World Cup break, they take on the Chicago Fire and Portland Timbers at home. After that comes three straight road games at a dismal Colorado side, a solid-looking New England squad and a dominant Atlanta team.
Winning just two of these upcoming six matches — as the standings dictate is likely to happen — would leave the Sounders at just 17 points heading into a July 21 contest with Vancouver and 16 games to go. That Vancouver match would be the earliest Ruidiaz and any other July additions would be joining the team post-World Cup, though it’s highly possible they would arrive later.
At 17 points, the Sounders would need to average 1.94 points per game over their final 16 matchups to reach the 48-point threshold generally needed to reach the playoffs. Some years, it takes more and some years fewer points for post-season qualification but a 1.94 points-per-game average is about what the Sounders averaged the last two seasons with very strong second half runs.
It’s debatable whether this year’s Sounders are capable of replicating such a run this time given all of their scoring woes. In other words, they probably need to win an extra game or two not already expected of them before Ruidiaz and others arrive.
TAM right back Kelvin Leerdam, earning $575,000, won’t play against the Red Bulls on Wednesday given the hamstring strain suffered against D.C. on Saturday. But other big-money players, especially Lodeiro, will be suiting up to at least give the Sounders a fighting chance.
“Nico’s a big player,” Alonso said. “We showed how we can play when we have him. He scored a goal. We’re very happy to have Nico.”
Lodeiro’s game-tying blast Saturday might have saved the season for a Sounders team trailing 1-0 at the time and in danger of losing to one of the worst teams in all MLS. It also earned Lodeiro MLS Team of the Week honors for Week 15, while positioning the Sounders to cap a comeback victory on an 83rd-minute goal by $546,000 TAM player Magnus Wolff Eikrem.
“It was a little bit of a weight off of my shoulders,” said Wolff Eikrem, who’s started in just five of 11 games and logged only 495 minutes, third fewest of any TAM or DP players other than the oft-injured Alonso and Torres. “It was good to score and a good team performance. People coming back from injury and from the national team. So, it was good.”
The Sounders in all had $7.94 million worth of DP and TAM players on the field for the game, by far their biggest amount this season and higher than the total payrolls of six MLS teams. And they’ll need every penny of it these next few weeks to dig out of the hole they’re in and keep things close enough for the Ruidiaz addition to matter in 2018.