TUKWILA, Wash. — After hinting to ESPN reporters during the match in Los Angeles last week that a player signing was imminent, the Seattle Sounders appear to have nearly sealed their second acquisition of the summer transfer window. Spanish winger Victor Rodriguez trained with the Sounders on Monday, but General Manager/President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey told assembled media the deal is not quite finalized.
“Nothing is official,” Lagerwey said. “We have some paperwork that we have to work through ... the documents, the visa, the player pass, some other things that we have to get done.” Lagerwey said the team is hopeful that an official announcement will happen very soon, probably this week. “Definitely optimistic that we’ll be able to complete the last steps and be able to add him this week.”
Rodriguez participated in Monday’s session despite not being under contract, and head coach Brian Schmetzer gave his first impressions: “he’ll be another piece in the midfield, he’s technically very clean, good passer of the ball.”
Lagerwey also chose to focus on the technical aspect of Rodriguez’s game, which is part of the Sounders’ long-term squad building goal. “We think he’s a very good technical player. We want to continue to add very good technical players. We want to be a good soccer-playing team.” The Sounders GM also confirmed that, like other summer signing Kelvin Leerdam, Rodriguez would be a TAM-level player. “If you look at our track record of TAM-level signings, Roman Torres, Kelvin Leerdam, those guys have been pretty successful so far, so we have some high hopes.”
Rodriguez has played for a number of teams in the various leagues in Spain, most recently for Sporting de Gijon, which were relegated to the Segunda Division at the end of last season. Lagerwey praised the winger’s pedigree, saying his experience in one of the best leagues in the world “leads us to believe that he has a good chance of success.”
Lagerwey shifted much of the credit to the club’s pursuit of Rodriguez to VP of Soccer/Sporting Director Chris Henderson. “Specifically, this is a player that Chris Henderson has scouted for almost two years now. He’s seen him multiple times live and I give Chris a lot of credit because he was dogged about this one.” He noted that the team has been pursuing Rodriguez after he was spotted by Henderson and acted quickly once they knew Rodriguez could move on a free transfer.
The Sounders apparently went into the summer transfer window focused on two positions: left wing and right back. Having already signed Leerdam to shore up right back, Rodriguez (and potentially Derlis Gonzalez) will be signed to help give depth and provide competition for the left wing spot. “I think the two most unsettled spots in our team this season, for better or worse, were right back and left wing,” said Lagerwey. “We had guys we thought would compete for those spots and potentially lock them down, so what we want for this season is stability and good, consistent options.” So it’s clear that the Sounders chiefly want Rodriguez in that left spot of the attacking midfield band, but Lagerwey also pointed to the player’s versatility as another reason the club wanted to pick him up. “He can play anywhere in the band of three, and as a technical player in a pinch he can go back and play as an 8,” said Lagerwey.
Rodriguez’s arrival wasn’t the only big Sounders news, as it came out this weekend that left back Joevin Jones would be moving to German club SV Darmstadt 98 in January. Lagerwey confirmed that Jones would be moving on, saying that it was something the club suspected would happen when he was traded to Seattle from the Chicago Fire. “This was a risk when we traded for him. If you go back to that time, it was surprising that he was available. One of the reasons was that he didn’t have a long-term contract with the league.” He said that when the club signed Jones, they were signing a player that they wanted to help them win an MLS Cup in the short term, because they knew they couldn’t hold onto him for long. “When we signed Joevin, we were comfortable with, potentially, an 18-month engagement because he could help us win a title. He did that. We’ve had return on that investment.”
While fans may be upset about Jones’ departure, it sounds like the club did just about everything they could to get him to stay. “I will say we made a significant offer to retain him. It wasn’t for lack of resources or anything like that. It was his choice and he wanted to go, and he went.” Lagerwey said it’s an important part of the club’s ethos to allow players to make their own decisions and help cement the club’s reputation on the global transfer market. “I think we have a pretty sterling reputation with honoring our players’ wishes and being a participant in the international marketplace.” He noted that even though it can be tough to see a good player leave, having their players do well in Europe and elsewhere can only be a boost to the club’s reputation.
When asked whether or not the team allowed Jones to move on because of how well Nouhou has done in his first season so far, Lagerwey said it was helpful but not necessarily an indication of the future of the left back position in Seattle. “We’re excited about Nouhou’s progress,” Lagerwey said. “I’ll also say that nothing’s given and nothing is assured. He’s a young player, and yes, he has potential.” By this, he was saying that Nouhou could be an option going forward, but that was far from cemented at this point. If he continues to improve over the course of the season, he could lock down left back for 2018 and beyond — but Lagerwey stressed that it’s far too early to confirm that. “Nothing is assured for anybody, and our goal is very simple: to defend our title in the second half of the season.”
With just under two weeks to go in the summer transfer window, the pressure for the Sounders to complete another deal is ramping up. Much has been said about Derlis Gonzalez, though (as usual) the club did not comment on a player under contract with another team. But even though it’s long been the assumption that the Sounders were signing a third, DP-level player this window, Lagerwey said it’s not a certainty. “[It’s] possible. Obviously we’re not going to go on vacation with eight days left, we do talk to people every day about transactions.” The main reasoning behind the uncertainty is that as they said last year when the Sounders waited to pursue Nicolas Lodeiro, they only want to spend big on a player they truly believe can make a difference for the team. “We are not going to go out and make a three- to five-year DP investment on a guy that we don’t think is special or we don’t think is the right investment for the club because we think the team is pretty good, because we do think we have a chance to defend the title with the group of guys we have out here right now.”
That’s a line that Lagerwey pressed in Monday’s scrum, that he strongly believes the team as it is currently built can compete for titles. He pointed to the team’s historic success against LA and their overall recent form as the most significant indicators that he has a good team on his hands. “We didn’t win for a decade in LA and the last three games we have two wins and a draw ... We’re in a pretty good patch. I think on a bigger scale, we’re maybe 6-2-3 in the last 11. Which is just under two points per game, Supporters’ Shield-level pace. That’s a third of the season.” Lagerwey is clearly satisfied with how the team is “trending upward” right now, and his opinion of the team’s quality is quite high. “I think this team is, if anything, better than it was at this point, better than we were a year ago at this time, but in general better even than the team that won the title.”