Former Manchester United reserve Magnus Eikrem, a Norwegian whose signing for Targeted Allocation Money is expected to be announced by the Sounders on Tuesday, won back-to-back titles with Malmo FF of the Allsvenskan first division circuit in Sweden.
A player the Sounders hope can boost and deepen their midfield knows quite a bit about winning championships.
Former Manchester United reserve Magnus Wolff Eikrem, a Norwegian whose signing for Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) is expected to be announced by the Sounders on Tuesday, just won back-to-back titles with Malmo FF of the Allsvenskan first division circuit in Sweden.
Before that, Eikrem, 27, captured consecutive Norwegian championships with his hometown Molde FK squad and he said the Sounders coming off consecutive MLS Cup finals appearances played a role in his signing with Seattle.
“That was a very big factor, because I know they want to challenge for a title and win a championship,” Eikrem said Monday. “Ultimately, as a player, one of the things you hope to accomplish is making it to the finals and winning them.”
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The deal is pending standard receipt of Eikrem’s International Transfer Certificate and P1 Visa.
Eikrem, who earned 16 caps with Norway’s national team from 2012-15, joins a Sounders team that used TAM money last year to import midfielder Victor Rodriguez and right back Kelvin Leerdam. Though an attacking midfielder throughout his career, Eikrem said he’s versatile enough to fill several midfield roles.
That should help the Sounders as they begin an arduous schedule that starts with a home-and-home CONCACAF Champions League series against Santa Tecla FC of El Salvador on Feb. 22 and March 1 before the regular season.
The monthlong World Cup window in June and July also could see the Sounders lose midfielders Nicolas Lodeiro to Uruguay’s national side and Gustav Svensson to Sweden.
New rules surrounding TAM allow MLS clubs to spend an additional $2.8 million annually in 2018 and 2019 on such midrange salaried players. Unlike Designated Player money spent on two or three elite players on every team, TAM funds are for midlevel contributors earning greater than the league’s maximum salary budget charge of $504,375 and less than $1.5 million.
Teams receive $1.2 million in annual TAM from the league, but the additional $2.8 million allotted this year and next must be funded by the clubs if they choose to spend it. Some teams, Atlanta United FC prime among them, have gone on an offseason spending spree, prompting criticism that the Sounders had not done enough this winter to address deficiencies.
The 2-0 defeat against Toronto in the MLS Cup final in December sounded alarms that the Sounders’ attack was too predictable and easily contained.
Adding Eikrem — described by his former Molde and Man U reserves coach, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, as “a playmaker, a quarterback” — should increase the Sounders’ creativity.
“He’s 27, so he’s in the prime of his career,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “We got him on a free transfer, so he’s a similar profile to Leerdam and Victor Rodriguez … where we can try to make the team a little deeper and a little better.”
Lagerwey said last week he was comfortable entering the season with 10 of 11 starters from last year. But Lagerwey also has maintained negotiations with overseas players before the Wednesday deadline of the European transfer window.
Players lose negotiating leverage after that date and tend to be more amenable to terms. Lagerwey on Monday would say only: “The league’s jumping forward. With this influx of TAM, teams are getting better, so we’ll try to do the same.”
Eikrem’s three-year deal with Malmo ended last season, and he had been training in Norway with his former Molde squad before arriving in Seattle on Monday.
“It’s the chance to win a cup again, but in a new part of the world,” said Eikrem, who described MLS as a league “on the way up” in world recognition.
Eikrem grew up in Molde, where his father Knut was a hard-tackling center back for the city’s team from 1983 to 1990. His father coached his youth teams and taught him the sport’s finer points, though at 5 feet 8 and 152 pounds, Eikrem inherited little of his dad’s size and brute strength.
“We are quite opposite types of players,” Eikrem said. “He didn’t have much technique and passing. But he had passion and was a good defender.”
After being signed to Manchester United’s youth academy at age 16, Eikrem never played for the famed “Red Devils,” though he spent two years with their reserve team. He moved on to Molde and captured Norwegian titles in 2011 and 2012.
The first championship was won on the road, the second was clinched in the next-to-last game in Eikrem’s hometown. After Molde won the match, he was informed during a live on-field television interview that second-place Stromsgodset had lost and his team was a repeat champion causing Eikrem to shriek and jump up and down before racing off to celebrate with his equally enthused teammates.
“I get a little bit emotional when I think about it,” he said. “You have to understand what was going through my mind. It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had, winning over there in my hometown. All of my family was there, all of my friends were watching in the stands.”
Now he’ll try to win another title in a different country and continent.