A topic that I’ve been exploring this off-season for myself is how to go about building a successful roster in MLS given all the various mechanism that are involved and a salary cap to work around. It’s not just how to build a successful roster, but how you would go about building one with sustainable success—a task that many clubs find an incredibly difficult given the methodology of the league. The question I ask aloud is whether or not it’s a problem of being stubborn and trying to go about acquiring talent the way most in the world do, or using the system in place.
This may or may not be a series that takes place over the course of the off-season. But last week there were a couple of transactions that occurred that struck my fancy in terms of how each front office went about it. Obviously there are factors that you have to consider, such as table placement, which in turn dictates allocation money and a various assortment of other little details. I think, overall, finding and acquiring defensive talent is a really tough task and I’m not entirely certain that you can go about trying to build for multiple years all in one off-season. Committing too much money to a single player can complicate roster moves for mid-season acquisitions, but can be easily cleared up in a single off-season with the help of the re-entry draft, various trades and the SuperDraft.
The re-entry draft is a basic way to spread some of the talent across the league when clubs aren’t able to incorporate the players price tag under their cap. The draft—if you aren’t familiar—functions in two different stages, with teams selecting players working in reverse order of the seasons table. Stage 1: players selected have to either have their options exercised, or teams are required to offer. Stage 2: a team can offer the player basically a “genuine offer” meaning that there is potential that you can get the player a discount rate. Should a player not sign with team, the club holds the player’s league rights.
Over the last week we saw what a team with allocation money can do in the re-entry draft. D.C. United acquired a hand full of players to upgrade their roster situation. One specific player of note is Bobby Boswell, a former MLS Defender of the Year, selected in the second round of the first stage. This means that D.C. United will offer a contract to Boswell that equates to 105% of his salary from the previous season and likely will be in the range of $235,000.
Likewise the Seattle Sounders were also looking to upgrade their defensive options. They worked out a trade with the Columbus Crew to acquire another former MLS Defender of the Year, this time in the form of Chad Marshall. The Sounders surrendered allocation money and a 1st round draft pick to the 2015 SuperDraft. We can’t be certain how much allocation money was exchanged between the two teams but my understanding is that it’s somewhere around $75,000.
Both players despite being in their late 20’s are solid individuals that will help their new clubs in a specific manner. Looking at the numbers, Seattle was one of the worst defensive teams that made the playoffs with a 0.95 shot attempt ratio that indicates they allow more shots against their goal than they produce for themselves. D.C. United was just simply abysmal on all fronts, and that fact needs no objective proof. They just sucked. You know it, I know it, and everyone knows it.
Chad Marshall and Bobby Boswell both finished in the top-10 of defensive actions ranking 3rd and 7th overall. This doesn’t necessarily imply any value, as I’ve yet to find any studies that can correlate blocked shots with goals saved, though I think it would be an interesting study. That said, any time you can spend money to potentially reduce the amount of shots your team faces is a good thing.
Either way Marshall and Boswell are very similar players in age, style and tactics. But they were acquired by different methods as the Sounders basically spent $125,000 in controlled assets to obtain his rights. DC spent and extra 5% on top of Boswells previous salary to pluck him from the Houston Dynamo and the re-entry draft.
Boswell will cost United roughly $235,000 in total numbers to put him on their squad. Assuming Marshall doesn’t negotiate his contract any further down, he’ll cost the Sounders $485,000 in both salary AND the assets they spent to acquire him. I think it’s funny how many people criticized the United’s front office in their move to select Boswell in the first stage, but the truth is they got a better value for the same piece as the Sounders giving up only half the assets.
It’s easy to make fun of those that are already calling D.C. United “an early favorite” for the MLS Cup. It’s impossible to know if any of these changes really help either Seattle or DC. Admittedly it’s hard to not see the Red and Black improve from where they were last year, and adding the handful of upgrades across their roster and full season of a healthy Chris Pontius should help—at the very least making their starting XI that much more handsome.
2 thoughts on “How to Build a Roster: Chad Marshall vs. Bobby Boswell”
I think it’s also important to make a distinction as to what each club is trying to accomplish with these respective pick-ups. DC United was a pile of human garbage last year. All of their off-season moves are basically just trying to solve the question, “How can we make this team respectable next season?” Boswell definitely fits the bill as a prototypical MLS-style center-back: big, good in the air, and a sub-par passer. He will be an immediate upgrade over Daniel Woolard, Ethan White (for now), and an out-of-position Perry Kitchen. But they aren’t looking to him to win the east. They just want to churn out a product that won’t be an embarrassment to their fans. If they get 3 years out of Boswell as a solid transition player at $235,000 while Ethan White develops, that would be a win for them.
Seattle has a top-tier roster as far as MLS goes, and what cost them any chance at a trophy last season was their slapdash defense, particularly their center-back pairing. In picking up Marshall, Seattle is rolling the dice, splashing some bucks on a top-tier center-back and hoping he can stay healthy and in form, and help them to a cup or a shield. Seattle is willing to risk to extra cash because the end goal for them is the top of the league. Though Marshall won’t be worth as many total wins as Boswell will be for DC (how could he be?), the additional wins he provides over Hurtado/Traore will be more valuable than Boswell’s, as each additional point/win brings them incrementally closer to a shield (and additional home-field advantages for the playoffs).
I wish there were a way–and maybe there is–to quantify how much more important each additional win/point is. But then you would have to quantify the importance of the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup (along with the US Open Cup and Canadian Championship), which is especially tricky given that the end goal of a professional sports franchise isn’t just to win, but also to remain profitable.
Yes, there are multiple themes to wade through and there is a lot of stuff that we can’t comment on as much as we would like but with Marshall Seattle is willing to pay that extra cost as in the “the marginal dollar value of a win” with personnel. As you state, while it costs Seattle more to have Marshall and his upgrade over Hurtado is less than Boswell over Daniel Woolard or Dejan Jakovic it means more to them.
The problem that I have with this is that the talent gap inthe league is so slim. DC has gone from worst team in the league to legit playoff contender in the lesser of the two conferences. Once DC gets into the playoffs, it’s possible that their probability to get to the MLS Cup from the Eastern Conference is near if not on par with Seattle.
It’d be one thing if you were attempting to build a club and push them from being an 88 Win team to a legit 92+ win team for the division in baseball. But the fact is that parity in this league is so much tighter and because of that teams can rebuild into significantly capable clubs in one off-season.
Getting back to the issue, Seattle could have had Boswell, who would have also been an upgrade to both Hurtado and Traore, and for a lesser amount than what they parted to get Marshall. The one thing they got with Marshall above all else is his name and the associated belief of how good he is how he’s perceived around the league. I’d argue that they could have easily gone with Boswell and it would have satisfied the same need.