The Seattle Sounders announced on Thursday that the club was signing midfielders Jordy Delem and Zach Mathers to first team contracts, after both players impressed during the team’s 2017 preseason. Mathers arrived in 2016 via the 2nd round of the SuperDraft, while Delem was scouted from Martinique by the Sounders.
Head coach Brian Schmetzer said he was “happy to have both of them” in the squad, but that both players are “a work in progress. We’ll get after them, we’ll push them and make sure that they uphold their end of the deal.” Both players spent most of last season with Sounders 2, and Mathers was called up to the first team on short-term loans for every US Open Cup match in 2016. Both Schmetzer and general manager Garth Lagerwey praised the signings as proof that the S2-first team pipeline is in full swing. “Hopefully two good examples of depth players that we’ve added as a result of our player development system,” said Lagerwey.
Mathers, a Fort Worth, TX native who came to the Sounders via Duke University, said “I’m very, very happy, very excited to be signed to the first team. It was a great opportunity to be with the second team last year, I really appreciate everything that I’ve had so far, and I’m excited for the rest of the season.” The young midfielder has tempered expectations for his first full season with the Sounders first team, saying that he hopes to work his way to a spot on the bench as soon as possible—and then work his way up. He attributes his rise from S2 to hard work, and hopes to use that same work ethic to become an MLS regular. “[With S2] I tried to play with heart and work as hard as I could; it’s paid off for me, but I have more hard work to do.”
Even though both Mathers and Delem are considered central midfielders for the most part, Lagerwey identified some key differences between the two. “Right now, Jordy’s probably slightly more versatile. We saw him some at right back in preseason, I think he’s probably best as a 6 right now. Zach is probably best as an 8, a box-to-box type midfielder.” To break it down even further, Lagerwey said that he thinks Mathers is more inclined to get involved with offense, while Delem is more defensive.
Mathers certainly impressed on the attack in preseason games and in training sessions, and his technique on the ball seems to have improved quite a bit since last season. His self-assessment echoed Lagerwey’s comments, though he sees himself as more versatile within the various central midfield roles. “I think I bring versatility, I can play as a 6 or as an 8, or if they really need me I can play as an attacking midfielder. I’m just looking for my opportunity wherever they need me. I feel like I can do a lot on the field, I can play short, I can play the long ball, I can play the in-between passes, I can play the through ball.”
Even though Delem’s defensive mindset is a good thing for a player, Lagerwey said that there are a few things that he’ll need to work on before he’s ready to be an MLS regular. “I think he’s got some bite, to the tune of a yellow card in every match he’s played so far. So we’ve gotta rein that in a little bit. He’s competitive, and that’s a good thing for a young guy. He’s not afraid.” Lagerwey praised Delem’s confidence, technique, and vision, attributing such maturity to the player’s 32 caps for Martinique.
Schmetzer sees Delem “right now, in the center of midfield, good replacements for that mix of wherever Gustav ends up and Cristian and Ozzie.” He also noted Delem’s appearances at right back and center back with S2, and is happy to have another versatile player on the squad. Delem agreed with that assessment, and said that as of now he’s been told that he’ll be playing as a 6 next to Ozzie Alonso or Cristian Roldan. “I feel good in this position, maybe I can learn well with Ozzie, he is the best midfielder in this league. I think I will be good.”
It’s safe to assume that both players will be slowly worked into the squad this season, though Delem is apparently still waiting on all the paperwork to go through before he’s cleared to play. “Jordy is not eligible to play this weekend, because we don’t have his visa or player pass yet,” said Lagerwey, “but Zach Mathers is eligible this weekend, and he’ll be under consideration to travel to Houston.”
The team provided a few updates this week on other players that were on trial with the club this preseason, including former New England defender Darrius Barnes. The MLS veteran suffered an adductor strain recently, and is currently rehabbing that injury. “He’s had a string of injuries, and if he can get healthy and stay healthy, then he is a player that we would seriously consider for the team,” said Lagerwey.
Former Academy player David Olsen also suffered an injury in preseason—thanks to former Sounders defender Tyrone Mears. Schmetzer said that Olsen twisted his ankle after a challenge from Mears in the Sounders’ friendly against Atlanta United. Lagerwey said that when Olsen has healed from that injury, he’ll most likely try out for S2.