Sounders Weekly: Off-Season Begins — Will Mauro Rosales Return?

Have we seen the last of Mauro Rosales in Seattle? For the right price, hopefully not.

MLS Cup came, was crazy, and then left in such a way that many could not expect nor predict — reminiscent to the many holiday parties being held this time of the year. With this year’s playoffs in the books, we turn the page to the 2014 season — beginning on Monday with the opening of the MLS trade window.

There are, of course, various rumors that are associated with Eddie Johnson, so I’m sure we’ll see his name trending at some point on social media. I suspect over the course of this week the Sounders will be fighting with the Mariners over headlines and player movement. Then of course teams have the ability to pick up and decline options which, according to Jeremiah Oshan, the Sounders will not to disclose at this time. While everyone is going to be waiting with baited breath to hear what happens to Seattle’s star striker, the arguably more important name to watch is Mauro Rosales.

While everyone is going to be chronicling the Sounders’ issue with strikers, the truth is that they need a playmaker — and the best one that they’ve had over their existence in MLS has been Rosales. It’s not even the number of assists that he’s compiled over his tenure with Seattle. The number of balls he’s delivered that have, in turn, produced shots is more than twice that of anyone else during that time frame.

When you attempt to measure what a player does in aiding the attack and scoring goals, there are a lot of theories on how to go about it. However, whatever that attack looks like, it must always lead to a shot before a goal can be scored. Using past shot rates is good method of predicting points and table placement. The more shots that your team is able to create, the better. This is why Key Passes — passes that end in players taking shots — are so important. This is why Rosales is so important.

Rosales does so much in creating shots, and he has the ability to deliver the final pass in goal-scoring situations, that replacing him is going to be a task. So why do it? Mauro Rosales was the owner of one of the three designated player spots, allocated to the Sounders from MLS, enabling them to pay him above the player contract cap. That spot is now owned by Osvaldo Alonso with his new DP contract, leading to Seattle turning down the Argentinian’s option in his contract.

An interesting note is that the Sounders only paid Rosales slightly above the $370K cap, not even eclipsing $400K.  Much of that is due to certain financials that the Sounders take care of and isn’t rolled into his salary for one reason or another. So despite the fact that he was a DP, the financial data exist that could lead a person to believe the potential in the Sounders renegotiating the winger’s contract and bringing Rosales back at a reduced cost.

I’ve talked on Sounders Nation blog over the last four months about how Rosales had become less effective, and I even put together some numbers to back up that thought.  He probably should no longer be considered a starting option for the Sounders, but that isn’t to say that he’s outlived his usefulness. The possibility still remains that he could still be a spot starter when his skill set would be used at its peak. His main use would be as a 12th man of sorts, the guy first off the bench, and he could wreak havoc with his skill and ability to put the ball nearly anywhere on a dime.

Just two months ago Mauro Rosales was talking about the possibility of a contract extension with the club. The only issues are that of money and and role with the club going forward.

I’m sure there are people that are 100 percent done with Rosales and everyone is going to have an opinion — the question in my mind and the only one that is important — is can they find a player that will produce on the same level as Rosales. Looking at the second half of the season from games 21 to 34 — basically the time frame in which Clint Dempsey joined the team — Rosales lead the team with 42 chances created on goal, nearly double of Dempsey (23) who was 2nd on the squad during that period. He was able to accumulate those numbers despite playing in only 1165 of 1530 potential minutes.

What is surprising is that despite the questions of durability and increased age, each season has brought new highs in games played, started and total minutes. I realize there is an argument here in terms of how much Rosales health will play into the decision making process, but to be honest — at this point I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. It’s apparent that he probably isn’t able to maintain the level of skill that we all know and love for a full 90 minutes or even more than 75 minutes on a consistent basis.

There are plenty of pros and cons to paying someone like Rosales more than what his position normally calls to be paid. The question that remains and I think this the point I’m attempting to make — can the Sounders find someone to do what Rosales does and pay that individual less? The reality is that it’s possible but not necessarily likely. As a point of reference Graham Zusi completed only 5 additional Key Passes and had one less assist in basically the same amount of time spent out on the pitch as Rosales.

The front office has a heck of a task ahead of it. Moving EJ is a big deal because of the 23 goals he’s scored for the club the past two years, but he’s just one man. Adrian Hanauer has to figure out how to find a replacement to someone that has directly contributed to 46 goals in the last three years. Either that or figure out a means to fit him into the 2014 budget. Neither of those choices are exactly slam dunk decisions and are sure to fraction the fan base on how to best handle them.

Here is why you guy paid the big bucks, Adrian.