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Recapping the Seattle Sounders’ championship offseason

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Just tuning back in? Here’s what you need to know.

How do you follow up an MLS Cup Championship? That was the question on the minds of Garth Lagerwey, Brian Schmetzer, and the rest of the staff as they looked to reload the Seattle Sounders roster and make another run at trophies in 2017.

While they didn’t make big headlines, they did make lots of changes. About half of the squad, or around 15 spots, will be filled with new players this year, though the core of the team remains unchanged. Rumors came and went, but no earthshaking players joined the team this winter.

If you’ve been in a post-championship daze since December, or just haven’t checked in on the Sounders lately, we have you covered. Here’s what you need to know about the Sounders’ offseason before they take on the Houston Dynamo on March 4.

Departures

Seattle lost players all over the roster this winter, from big contract options declined at the top to moving on from reserve players at the bottom.

Nelson Valdez finally put on his scoring shoes in the 2016 playoffs (for which Sounders fans everywhere no doubt will always be grateful), but unfortunately it was an unusual run of form for him. Seattle declined an option on his DP contract and Valdez signed with Club Cerro Porteño of the Paraguayan Primera Division.

Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas: Photos
Nelson Valdez came alive in the playoffs, but he has moved on, opening a DP slot.
Photo credit - MikeRussellFoto

Andreas Ivanschitz also played a major role in the championship season, but was on a large contract number himself and turned 33 in October. Ivanschitz tweeted his thanks to the Sounders and the fans and signed shortly after with Viktoria Plzeň of the Czech First League.

Erik Friberg once again has returned to Sweden and a four-year deal at BK Häcken where he played from 2007-2010. Friberg had 38 appearances in his second stint with the Sounders.

Tyrone Mears had been a reliable starter at right back since DeAndre Yedlin left for greener pastures, but a rocky 2016 made it likely he would not be on the squad after the season ended. Indeed his option was declined, but he landed with Atlanta United FC after the expansion team sent $50,000 in General Allocation Money to Seattle.

Zach Scott finally, actually retired after 348 matches as a Sounder. You can attend his testimonial on March 1 at Memorial Stadium.

Herculez Gomez also retired to continue his work as an analyst with ESPN.

Dylan Remick has moved on to the Houston Dynamo through the Re-Entry Draft, where he backs up DeMarcus Beasley and has a new chance to break into regular MLS minutes.

After Damion Lowe spent 2016 on a successful loan to Minnesota United FC, some hoped a trade to the expansion club was forthcoming. Instead, Lowe signed with the Tampa bay Rowdies of the USL.

Darwin Jones soon joined Damion with the Rowdies, having been unable to carve out a place for himself with the Sounders first team.

Nathan Sturgis is now a free agent, currently without team.

Michael Farfan has also retired.

Oalex Anderson is now a free agent, currently without a team.

Goalkeeper Charlie Lyon has signed with Orange County SC of the USL.

After winning the NASL Soccerbowl with the Cosmos and MLS Cup with the Sounders, defender Jimmy Ockford moved on to Reno 1868.

Finally, Sounders homegrown player Victor Mansaray is still a Seattle player but is now on loan to the USL’s FC Cincinatti.

Rumors

As always, the Sounders were connected to plenty of players in the offseason, but compared to the dramatic midseason move bringing in DP Nicolas Lodeiro, these rumors dissipated quickly.

It was the season of the Japanese midfielders, as both Hiroshi Kiyotake and Keisuke Honda were at different times rumored to be headed this way. Kiyotake signed in Japan, and Honda’s situation is complicated by an imminent change in AC Milan’s ownership. The World Cup veteran could still end up a Sounder if that’s resolved in the near future.

Before that, there was the brief excitement over Fredy Montero’s return from China to MLS. Sadly the magical Colombian landed in Vancouver instead of his second home of Seattle.

Former Sounders target Sebastian Blanco was signed by the Portland Timbers, who had to give up $75,000 in GAM to the Sounders for the right to do so. (Atlanta United also sent $75,000 for similar rights to sign DP Miguel Almiron; the Sounders scouting network seems to be turning a profit in allocation funds).

A last-minute addition is not out of the question, and negotiations are certainly ongoing for future windows. At this point the likeliest scenario is that Osvaldo Alonso starts the season as a DP but is bumped out of that spot using allocation money after a more expensive summer signing.

Draft

The Sounders had a quiet but effective 2017 SuperDraft. Opting to trade their 16th pick to New York City FC for $75,000 in GAM, Seattle made their first pick at 22: Brian Nana-Sinkham. The 22-year-old Stanford product is an option at CB and RB.

With pick 44, the Sounders grabbed Dominic Oduro, a Ghanaian with some experience as a reserve player in European leagues under his belt. He was played in defensive midfield in preseason.

In the final two rounds, Seattle chose Georgetown midfielder Bakie Goodman at 56, Wright State defender Jake Stovall with pick 66, and Seattle University (and former Sounders Academy) defender Kyle Bjornethun with the 88th pick.

Oduro, Goodman and Bjornethun may be trying out for S2. Stovall signed with Puerto Rico FC.

Additions

After 15 subtractions from the roster and trading their top draft pick, the Sounders had to add a few players somewhere, right? They moved quickly to acquire two MLS veterans that are likely to be in the 18 from week to week.

Just 12 days after winning MLS Cup, Lagerwey traded an undisclosed amount of GAM to Montreal Impact for Harry Shipp, a fourth-year midfielder originally signed as a homegrown player by the Chicago Fire. Shipp brings good passing, touch and vision, and an ability to fill in anywhere in Seattle’s attacking band behind the striker.

Just a day later (Dec. 23), Will Bruin came over after having spent his entire MLS career with the Houston Dynamo. The Sounders gave up a combination of GAM and TAM for the striker, who slots in as a primary backup for Jordan Morris.

After losing Erik Friberg back to his homeland, the Sounders needed to fill their Swedish quota (not to mention their midfield). Enter Gustav Svensson, a 30-year-old midfielder/defender with six caps for his national team. He was playing in the Chinese Super League, but now he’ll be a critical veteran backup at defensive mid or can fill in at fullback or even central defense in a pinch.

Bryan Meredith returned to the Sounders from San Jose Earthquakes through the Re-Entry Draft, filling out the Sounders contingent of goalkeepers.

Clint Dempsey vs. Atlanta United
Clint Dempsey is fully cleared to play in MLS matches.
Sounders FC Communications/Zach Blend

The Sounders also signed their eighth and ninth Homegrown Players in midfielder/defender Henry Wingo and forward Seyi Adekoya, both of whom have shown flashes of very good play in preseason matches.

Cameroonian left back Nouhou Tolo was signed to a first team contract at the end of January after a strong performance last year with Sounders FC 2. Just 19 years old, Tolo will provide a backup for Joevin Jones.

Though he never left the roster, the biggest “addition” of the offseason is certainly the return of Clint Dempsey, who has been cleared to play fully as MLS matches begin and has quickly regained fitness.

State of the roster

The Sounders depth chart is in flux, at least to those of us on the outside of the coaching staff looking in. The roster has made a significant swing towards younger players in depth roles, and players have featured all over the place in preseason. This is partly because veterans like Alonso, Stefan Frei and Brad Evans have been making their way back from injuries. That said, we can confidently describe the ideal XI to start 2017. As we know, plenty will get in the way of this exact group taking the pitch from week to week.

That’s a lineup that looks ready to defend a title, especially considering the depth waiting in the wings behind it. The picture will undoubtedly change throughout the year, but if this group can click and stay healthy, there’s no reason to think they can’t bring home more trophies in 2017.