Approximately five minutes after it was announced that Blaise Nkufo and the Sounders would be parting ways moments before the first game of the season, there's been a fair amount of speculation as to who would be taking his place as Seattle's next designated player. Much of the speculation was dependent upon the belief that the Sounders would be going after a striker, with the rumors following suit; first came Diego Forlan, then Didier Dirgba. Djibril Cisse provided a nice (and legitimate sounding) buzz. Trialists Cillian Sheridan and Sammy Ochoa provided a short distraction, but as soon as they were out of camp. Prince Tagoe came along and got everyone talking about big-money, big splash deals once again.
Needless to say, it's been an interesting few months. Every reasonably successful European striker with an expired or expiring contract has been connected to the Sounders, from big names like Drogba and Forlan to smaller names like John Carew, and until the Sounders unveil their new star the chatter isn't likely to quiet down. MLS silly season has begun in earnest, and the Seattle is right in the thick of things. This isn't like last season, where the Sounders had announced Blaise Nkufo's arrival well before the World Cup break and Alvaro Fernandez showed up almost completely unannounced just before the start of CONCACAF Champions League play.
This season everyone knows (or at least think they know) what Seattle is going to do and have a favored target all but lined up. The reports are flying in from all sorts of different sources, and at least someone, somewhere will take each and every one of them seriously. At this point, all we know for sure is this; the Sounders have a list of somewhere in the neighborhood of eight players that they have been observing and/or in contact with, those eight players are of various ages and pedigrees and they won't be spending $200,000 per week on any of them. Outside of that, it's all conjecture.
And unlike most American sports, the summer transfer window is international. That means that media outlets the world over (with varying degrees of expected integrity) are paying attention, and though MLS is still fairly low in the world soccer pecking order the fact that the league is known for attracting big-name players edging towards the twilight of their careers and the Sounders have the most visible opening (and deepest pockets) in the league. But MLS has used the expansion of designated player rules in ways not connected to acquiring such players as of late-Alvaro Fernandez and Fabian Castillo of FC Dallas being prime examples-and this knowledge has begun to filter into the global consciousness of the game. That's why the rumors surrounding Prince Tagoe seemed so plausible; Tagoe fills a need for Seattle, the team has money to burn and Seattle is a high-profile club. Right?
Well, kind of. Yes, Tagoe certainly fills a need for Seattle. But so do a great many players who, if not connected to the club through vague implications via previously unheard of channels, would be dismissed as realistic possibilities out of hand. Every given summer there are a handful of wildcard clubs thrown into various transfer rumors to add to the intrigue; at this point, it would appear as though Seattle is one of them this year. That doesn't mean all of these rumors are going to end up being woven out of whole cloth. There was plenty of reason to be skeptical of Thierry Henry joining the New York Red Bulls about this time a year ago, after all. But it does mean that skepticism should be judiciously exercised.
Eventually, a player like Prince Tagoe will sign with an MLS club, and when they do it will be a banner moment for the league. A 24-year-old drawing interest from clubs that are qualified for next season Champions League moving stateside would be a coup, and there's no two ways about it. As would a player like Didier Drogba, clearly not the player he once was but still legitimately a superstar who could be an important player for any number of the biggest clubs on the continent moving stateside. And one of the two might happen this season. If so, the Sounders may very well be involved. But until you see someone beaming while holding up a Sounders scarf while Adrian Hanauer looks on, grinning with self-satisfaction, maintain a healthy level of skepticism.
The Sounders aren't a big club (or anywhere close to it) in a global sense, but they have money, some name recognition and a whole lot of information hungry fans. In a cottage industry driven almost entirely by pageviews, their name is bound to pop up from time to time. The Sounders are going to sign a very good player, that much is hardly in doubt. And it might be one of the names that have been bandied about in recent weeks. But it just as easily might be someone no one has mentioned, or that most haven't ever really heard of. And while there will be those that aren't especially thrilled if a player without the cachet of Forlan or Drogba is named, they'll be in the minority. Because unlike the Red Bulls (or before them the Galaxy) the Sounders don't have to worry about drawing power, shirt sales or the buzz factor associated with a big name. They can afford to make the best decision for purely soccer related reasons. That player might end up being someone like Didier Drogba, but it probably won't be. And as crazy as it might sound, the ability to make that call is a pretty fantastic luxury.