BY Stanley Holmes 03:18PM 03/21/2011

Why the Sounders need a big-time striker

Club needs to spend to fulfill ambitions — it could start with Forlan.


Sounders forward Fredy Montero would benefit the most if La Liga star Diego Forlan joined the Sounders. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

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 winning the Golden Boot in La Liga. / Biographydvd.com

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.


YourThoughts

  • Tom

    The Sounders got really lucky with Montero – it’s really hard to imagine the Sounders without him. Against the Galaxy, I thought the Sounders were unlucky. They controlled the ball and had good chances. However, I think the Red Bulls beat us in the mid-field (it hurt having Zaks out and showed that we aren’t really that deep, especially on the wings). Even getting out played in the mid-field, White and Montero had their moments. I’m not convinced our problems are with the forwards. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited when rumors of a Forlan move to Sounders were floating around during the off-season. I’d love to see it, I just don’t see how.

  • billybab

    I love the idea of seeing Forlan in rave green, but I wonder if we can attract that kind of talent with the style of play that we’re showing so far this season. The lack of an attacking midfield leaves us with mostly a long-ball offense, which is frustrating to watch and frustrating to play; it’s the kind of game I’d expect to see at the college level.

    Forlan didn’t score all those goals on his own, and even someone of his caliber needs consistent support and quality service (not just a few good balls here and there) to create scoring opportunities, especially if we’re looking for someone who can score double-digits. Bringing on quality talent without consideration for the rest of our system would likely result in another disappointing DP experience.

    • Stanley Holmes

      Billybab,

      I think the midfield will be fine. Remember, Zakuani didn’t play on Saturday. Friberg is showing he has the touch and vision to pull the strings in the center, and I thought Flaco actually played his best game against the Red Bulls. Add Rosales and Evans to the mix along with Ozzie, and the midfield will be strong. That brings us back to the front line. Sounders need a difference-maker, a proven finisher to take the pressure off Montero, who will get some goals. A Forlan-caliber striker would cinch the deal. Doesn’t have to be Forlan, of course, just someone of his quality. Monterrey had a couple clinical finishers who ripped the Sounders up last year in CCL, who make DP wages. Doesn’t have to be from Europe. Just has to be someone of proven quality.

  • http://theseattlesalmon.com Zack

    First off, I’d like to say it is obvious that you are a talented writer. I thought the article flowed well and was fun to read.

    That being said, it was rather long for a pie in the sky piece that boiled down to SPEND MONEY OR DIE. If you’re going to write fluffy content, please spend money on some more cool images.

    I understand that the traditional sports journalists are slowly migrating to soccer. We welcome you and are thankful to (finally) have your communicative powers on our side. We (the soccer fans) want to help you in this transition.

    Here are some Sounders topics I would like to read about…

    -Sigi Schmid refuses to change his formation even in the absence of a decent strike partner for Montero.

    -What would a Sounders 4-5-1 lineup look like?

    -The Sounders might need to exchange offensive output for possession and build-up play.

    -Is Friberg fully fit or simply slow? (please mention his creativity and positional sense qualities too).

    -Where should we stash O’Brian White since we now definitively know he’s not a natural striker? Can he cross the ball?

    -How are the language issues affecting the Parke/Hurtado CB partnership?

    -Who’s currently transfer listed and has expressed an interest in playing in the states?

    I hope this helps, because I want this publication to succeed.

    Zack

  • Gunnar

    Great idea Stanley. I like your back of the envelope projections. Lets not forget the opportunity to sell more tickets, through putting a great team on the field that wins. I have been worried about SSFC possibly losing some fan base if they don’t start scoring. As a lifelong soccer fan and player, I enjoy the game, but 0-0 ties and 1-0 losses are not a whole lot of fun to watch. Adrian talks a lot about an attacking brand of soccer, but Sigi sure doesn’t seem to coach that way. It would be great to win MLS this year, but they don’t look like a strong squad right now.

  • billybab

    Stanley,
    I neglected to mention that I appreciate your analysis of the game, and this is great local coverage (and discussion) of our beloved team.

    I comletely agree about bringing on a quality striker, and I hope you’re right about the midfield. Too often in the NY match, the outside mids would be isolated with the ball on the outside, and the nearest support was 20 yards away with no one moving towards the ball (not many moving away, either). The only options are then to dribble (which is sometimes successful) or hit it long. I think my biggest gripe is how quickly we revert to the “dump it down the field” tactics, rather than striving for possession through smart passing. It takes a team effort, but opens up more support for the strikers – essentially how the Red Bulls played us.

    That being said, I’m looking forward to seeing Zakuani/Friberg/Morales/Flaco on the field together. Is that lineup possible?

    Ah, if we could all have our $0.02. Then again, that’s why they pay Sigi the big bucks…

    • Stanley Holmes

      Thanks, Billybab, appreciate your comments. Love your questions and insights — keep ‘em flowing like the ’82 Brazilian WC team:)

      Per other thought: Such a midfield is possible. You can’t rule anything out. Those who contribute will play. I think that’s pretty clear.

      This team, as AH has said, is not the finished article.

  • Elena

    This article is focused on how great it would be for the Sounders, but it does not mention any possible motivation for Forlan to want to come here, except money–and the Sounders do not have any leg up where that is concerned. Why in God’s name, from his point of view, would he come here? When he is ready to be put out to pasture he’ll go to Argentina or Brazil where the level of play will be better than the MLS. But he still has some years left to make real money at important clubs. I don’t see him choosing the MLS by a long shot.

    • Stanley Holmes

      But Elena, the Sounders can spend as much money as they want to attract Forlan. The Sounders have a DP slot — only $335,000 counts against the salary cap. Forlan is making $8.5 million roughly a year. With the DP, the Sounders can offer him that kind of money. What’s more, Forlan is not going to ever make $8.5 million again in Europe. Still a great player, but at 31, his peak earnings are over. Sounders can make him an offer he cannot refuse. Finally, foreign players want to come to play in America. They love everything here except the standard of play and the money. Living in America is a HUGE attraction. Just ask Fredy Montero. Pay someone like Forlan real money to play for the Sounders in one of the coolest places in America for a team that is respectable and has big ambitions, suddenly all seems possible. But your arguments are equally valid and there’s plenty of compelling reasons to play in England or Italy. Money is still going to be good. My point: it doesn’t have to be Forlan — just has to be a striker of Forlan’s caliber.

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  • Tom

    I think Soborio as DP is a better model for the Sounders than a Forlan-caliber player. Soborio had a great season last year and his experience playing in Central America with Saprissa has put RSL on the verge of a CONCACAF Champions League final. I think it’s risky to put out big money for a European star like Henry, Beckham, or Forlan. If your season depends too much on one player, and that player is demanding 80-90% of your payroll, what happens when he blows his achilles? The Sounders should use the DP slots for players in the $2M – $4M range – Forlan or one of his caliber would cost more like $8M – $10M as you state.

    As for the striker issue, I know it’s 20-20 hindsight, but the whole Nkufo ordeal could have been avoided had the Sounders protected Le Toux, who had a very productive year last year. It will help to have Jaqua back.

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  • Joe Fan

    I would have given Sark an A, but the defense has so far, overall, been disappointing.  The lack of clear success on the defensive side (and don’t get me wrong, there are glimmers of hope), resulted in me knocking down the grade just a tad.

  • Guest

    Willingham left the following: Foster, Butler, Teo-Nesheim, Locker, Polk, Kelemete, Ta’amu, Aguilar, Kearse…others, I’m not entirely sure of: Glenn, Dennison, Price (commited to Ty, recommitted to Sark),

  • Romarmat

    when is the story coming out on Sark and his womanizing….. I’ve heard 3 different people tell me that they know a girl ( all different ) that he’s pursued….

  • TheGladMan

    In all due respect, why is Jim Moore even employed by a newspaper in the NW anymore?
    The guy writes like a high school freshman, comes up with outrageous titles and topics to get someone to even look a what he writes, and still thinks the football season is one game – the ‘Apple Cup’.
    Interesting to see his comments below. Does not surprise me – he is ‘anti-UW’ with everything, including the hiring of Sarkisian. Anything he can wrote about when the UW is involved has to be negative.
    Like MOST of us, I was surprised and concerned when the announcement re. Sark was made, but like MOST of us, wanted to give the guy a chance.
    He has proven to be the classiest and most competent coach in the PAC12. We would not trade the guy for anyone. No way in hell would I want to see an arrogant Napoleon like Chip Kelly at the UW – the guy is classless. He comes across like a used-car salesman – I.e. count our fingers after you shake his hand.
    He and Mike Riley are the best role models for these players, and we are very lucky to have him.
    I hope he stays at the UW a LONG time.

    • TheBigDog

      To clarify: Sark and Mike Riley are the classiest coaches in the PAC12 by far… well, I need to include Whittingham from Utah – he is a great coach as well.

      • Romarmat

        Classy? Sark?  never.. Wulff yes, classy is judged by the level of admiration from your peers… Sark is not well liked by other coaches in the Pac-12… Wulff is…

  • crumudgeon

    Well written.  Class act.  We have a genius in our midst…