TUKWILA, Wash. – A funny thing happened at Seattle Sounders practice on Tuesday: Álvaro Fernández showed up.
That may not sound remarkable. After all, Fernández is a Seattle Sounder player, but amid Monday rumors the Uruguayan attacker would be sent on loan to Colombia’s Deportivo Cali, the appearance of “Flaco” was significant. If the 26-year-old’s about to take a break from the Pacific Northwest, neither he nor the club are acting like it.
“I guess when you score a couple of goals, rumors start,” head coach Sigi Schmid told media after Tuesday’s practice, his team preparing for Wednesday’s meeting with European champions Chelsea.
“[There’s] nothing I’m aware of right now,” Schmid said, having just finished a long conversation with general manager Adrian Hanauer and technical director Chris Henderson. “Everything’s just rumors. [Fernandez has] two goals in our last two league games. He’s done well from that stand point.”
Rumor, innuendo, smoke – we still haven’t seen fire around the Fernández speculation, though you can see why it’s there. Seattle has filled their allotment of designated players with Fredy Montero, Mauro Rosales and Fernández. If the Sounders are to make a big move by the time the transfer window closes on July 27, they may need to free up a spot. While not every big move requires a designated player spot (see: all-star Eddie Johnson), the type of transactions that generate weeks of idle speculation require designated player caché. With Montero and Rosales integral to Seattle’s 2012 plans, Fernández is the clear third of three.
But not being as important as Montero or Rosales, two all-star-caliber players, is a lot different than being in the bargain bin. As Schmid notes, Fernández has been productive of late, scoring the opening goal in Seattle’s last two MLS matches. But those are Fernández’s only goals of the season, and ranking 13th on the team in minutes played, Flaco carries the distinction of being one of the club’s best compensated players ($300,000, this season) without being a lock for Schmid’s starting XI.
Last year, Fernández’s nine league goals were second on the club, with Flaco scoring every 215 minutes. This year, Fernández is scoring once every 460 minutes, leaving him fighting for time in a midfield picture crowded by the emergence of Alex Caskey and rookie Andy Rose. Fernández has made 14 league appearances. Caskey and Rose have each made 13.
Ultimately, Fernández’s immediate future may have less to do with his play than his status. While he may not be performing to his $300,000 salary, that’s not money Seattle’s hurting to reclaim. The Designated Player spot, however, is scarce.