Nelson Valdez has probably played his last game for the Seattle Sounders. This probably won’t come as a massive shock, but Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey seemed a bit resigned to this fact during a Friday conference call with reporters that served as a sort of review of a so-far active offseason.
“We made Nelson an offer, at a massive salary cut,” Lagerwey said. “It was something he wasn’t able to contemplate at the time. It seemed like it was going to be very difficult to find an agreement. The cut we were asking him to take was very large.
The Sounders’ stance is not difficult to understand. As important as Valdez may have been in the locker room, his production never came anywhere near justifying the almost $1.5 million he was reportedly paid in 2016. Valdez scored just one regular-season goal in about 1,300 minutes over parts of two seasons. He did get a measure of redemption in the Sounders’ title run, though, scoring the winning goal in their First Round playoff victory over Sporting Kansas City and netting the winner in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals against FC Dallas. He is one of just three Sounders to have scored in the regular season (1), playoffs (3), U.S. Open Cup (1) and CONCACAF Champions League (1).
Valdez also deserves a degree of admiration for the way he swallowed his pride late in the regular season to be an effective energy player off the bench and never seemed to hang his head. Reprising that role, though, was only worth it to the Sounders at a significantly reduced salary and Lagerwey didn’t sound very optimistic about Valdez accepting that.
“I understand why Nelson wasn’t enamored with our offer,” Lagerwey said. “I can’t say enough about him as a person and his family. We wish we could have brought him back, but it’s unlikely. He’ll be missed and the culture he helped us create. He’s just a really great human being and we were really grateful to have him.”
Valdez isn’t the only veteran to find himself in this position, either.
Lagerwey suggested he had similarly “brutal” conversations with the likes of Erik Friberg, Tyrone Mears and Andreas Ivanschitz, all of whom had their contract options declined. At least in the case of Friberg and Mears, it sounded as if they were given offers.
“We didn’t pick up options on some very good veteran players,” Lagerwey said. “I can’t say enough about what they added to club and culture.
“It’s up to those guys [Mears and Friberg, if they’ll come back]. We’ve had conversations with them. When you don’t take players’ options, especially after you win a championship, there’s not always a warm and fuzzy reaction.”
The recent acquisitions of Harry Shipp (25) and Will Bruin (27) were also designed to help replace those veterans, while also getting younger.
“Bruin will fill the Valdez role, Shipp fills the Ivanschitz role,” Lagerwey said. “We have [Brad] Evans who can provide cover if Mears leaves. We have [Clint] Dempsey hopefully coming back. That’s a big step forward for our team.
“It’s always a balance, always tricky. To have exit meetings with players six hours after victory celebration dies down is brutal, there’s no other word for it. These are high-class problems, but you have to get right back to work. We haven’t take a day off, haven’t taken an hour off.”