Sounders get salary help, sign Dempsey to new deal for 2018

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TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) — The Seattle Sounders will have Clint Dempsey when they try to make it to a third straight MLS Cup final.

Seattle general manger Garth Lagerwey confirmed Tuesday that the club has signed Dempsey to a one-year deal for the 2018 season that will keep the forward with the Sounders while giving the team greater salary flexibility. Having the improved flexibility is important for Lagerwey as the Sounders try to build a roster that can chase a third straight Western Conference title in 2018.

Lagerwey did not get into specifics about Dempsey's deal but did confirm he will be a designated player for Seattle and that the contract is only for 2018. Dempsey's previous contract had a team option for the 2018 season but was more of a hit against Seattle's salary cap.

"Clint worked with us and he's taking less money than he was on before to come back. Still well-paid, well-compensated, but yes we hope long term that creates a little more balance with respect to our (designated player) spend," Lagerwey said.

Lagerwey was already looking ahead to next year just three days after the Sounders stumbled in their attempt to win a second straight MLS Cup title. The Sounders lost to Toronto 2-0 in the final Saturday. By Tuesday, they had to make key roster decisions for moving ahead.

Dempsey was one of the bigger decisions, although a new deal has been expected for several weeks. Dempsey returned from an irregular heartbeat that ended his 2016 season early to lead the Sounders in 2017 with 12 goals in the regular season and three more in the playoffs.

With Dempsey secured and 11 other players with their contract options exercised, the Sounders have 22 players under contract.

Lagerwey said he believes Seattle's roster construction is further ahead of where it was at this point a year ago when the club was celebrating its first MLS title.

"With 22 guys under contract, with more or less a starting 11 on paper in front of us already, I think we've got a really good base," Lagerwey said. "What that does is allows us to make the best possible decision for our club. Will we fill roster spots to fill roster spots? No. Are we honestly ahead of where we were last year? I believe we are because our starting lineup is in a better place, our depth is in a better place. I think we're a better, more sustainable age."

Lagerwey will need a stable roster from the outset next season with the Sounders playing in the CONCACAF Champions League beginning in February. Lagerwey said the club intends to take advantage of an increase in targeted allocation money to fill gaps in the roster and help build depth for a season where Seattle could play up to 48 games.

One roster issue Lagerwey may need to resolve is some unhappiness from midfielder Osvaldo Alonso. An original since the club's expansion season in 2009, Alonso was made available for Tuesday's MLS expansion draft. Lagerwey said it was a calculated risk making Alonso available so that other players could be protected. Seattle lost goalkeeper Tyler Miller in the draft.

"Ozzie is under contract for next year and like any other player under contract we would assume he'll continue with us," Lagerwey said.

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