Now, Johnson will get that raise, just not in Seattle.
The Sounders traded forward Johnson, who scored a team-high 23 goals over the past two seasons, to D.C. United Tuesday for what general manager Adrian Hanauer described as "a large amount of allocation money, which will help us make some of the roster moves we have already made and will continue to make in the not-so-distant future."
Allocation money is a Major League Soccer allocated resource that teams can spend without having that money count towards a team's salary cap, either by using it to sign players or to buy down the cap hit of a player's salary. Already the Sounders have parted ways with other significant players, largely for salary cap reasons, including former designated player Mauro Rosales, 2009 No. 1 draft pick Steve Zakuani, and starting goalkeeper Michael Gspurning.
Even though Johnson, who was acquired in a trade before the start of the 2012 season, revived his career and has been the team's top scorer since joining the team, this move hardly comes as a surprise. Johnson, who has also become a fixture with the U.S. national team since coming to Seattle, made it clear during the past season that he was looking for a raise from the $156,333 he was making, and Hanauer has admitted in the past that Johnson did indeed deserve that raise.
However, when Seattle re-signed midfielder Osvaldo Alonso to a contract that made him the team's third designated player along with Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, it became clear Johnson's time in Seattle was likely up. Terms of Johnson's new deal with D.C. United have not yet been made public, but reportedly he will get a significant raise, likely making him a designated player.
"This was for the most part one of those salary cap-related transactions where it's a tough system to live in with lots of good players who want to make lots of money," Hanauer said on a conference call. "We just thought this was the best solution to us for managing our roster the way we want to manage it to hopefully get ourselves into a position to compete for a championship in 2014."
Hanauer downplayed the idea that Johnson's departure had to do with any clashes between the forward and Seattle's coaching staff or front office, though he also said that from a big-picture standpoint, building a more cohesive locker room has been a factor in the bevy of offseason moves Seattle has made in the last week.
"It was mostly focused on salary cap," Hanauer said. "It was certainly reported and there were some minor incidents, but minor incidents happen on many teams with many players and often times it doesn't get reported. I know the speculation is going to be there were these other massive issues, but really when it came down to it, this was about getting our team balanced from back to front in a way that gives us the best chance of winning. Eddie obviously wanted to make more money, which sort of started this process down the road it has gone. And we're happy for Eddie as well."
Hanauer did, however, acknowledge that cap issues weren't the only factor in all of these moves, not after the 2013 season ended with a spectacular late-season collapse to end the regular season, followed by another early exit from the playoffs at the hands of the rival Portland Timbers.
"I think it's safe to say that," Hanauer said when asked if there was some desire to shake things up. "It's been five years, and we've obviously had a lot of success, but maybe not the pinnacle of success in our league. This last year was inconsistent, so we wanted to shake that up and try to create a scenario where we have more consistency. And as I've mentioned before, it wasn't the best locker room we had, and again, the locker room thing was a combination of a lot of factors, but it was something we considered, and some of these moves are meant to continue to bring the group together so we can do those things (owner Joe Roth) mentioned, which is a super together team that fights, scratches and claws for each other and gives our fans the belief that we're out there working as hard for them as they are for us, and be a team that they're really proud of."
For all the moves Seattle has made, most notably the aforementioned departures and the addition of goalkeeper Stefan Frei, defender Chad Marshall and forward Kenny Cooper, don't expect this to be the last one. With attacking players such as Rosales, Zakuani and now Johnson departing, Hanauer said the Sounders will continue to look for ways to improve.
"We do have pretty good flexibility now, so I would count on one or two more pretty major signings, potentially," Hanauer said. "They could be anywhere on the field. I think it's fair to say with Mauro and Steve going that width in the midfield is potentially an area that we'd be looking at. We could potentially still be interested in getting better defensively, another spot in the midfield or maybe adding another forward. I'd say we're still pretty far from the finished product."
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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