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Sounders GM: ‘We didn’t want to compromise’ by signing second-choice DP

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Garth Lagerwey also vows to continue pursuit of DP in January transfer window.

TUKWILA, Wash. — Although the summer transfer window remains open for a few more hours, the Seattle Sounders have given every indication their roster is now set. Yes, that means they’ve effectively given up any hope of Dynamo Kyiv having a change of heart and agreeing to transfer Derlis Gonzalez.

Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey didn’t directly address the Gonzalez rumors — “we can’t comment on players under contract to other teams” — but he did acknowledge the team failed in its attempt to sign a Designated Player.

“We were in extended discussions with more than one Designated Player candidate,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “They didn’t come to fruition. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Lagerwey was quick to point out that the Sounders had successfully signed DPs in each of the two previous summer transfer windows. But having already added TAM-level signings Kelvin Leerdam and Victor Rodriguez and the team’s relatively strong position in the MLS table, Lagerwey said he didn’t feel compelled to settle for lesser DP options.

“We did have a backup plan, we had multiple backup plans, but ultimately we chose not to exercise those,” he said. “From our perspective, a Designated Player decision is a 3- to 5-year decision that has longterm implications for the franchise.

“We didn’t want to compromise our standards. When you look those standards — Obafemi Martins, Clint Dempsey, Nico Lodeiro and going back to Fredy Montero — I think we’ve set a really high bar for DP’s we’ve looked to bring in, spent significant resources and those are decisions we ultimately want to get right.”

There have been suggestions that the Sounders could re-ignite their pursuit of Gonzalez during the next transfer window. Lagerwey didn’t confirm that, but he made it clear the moves they make now aren’t simply meant to improve the team’s chances in the near term.

“We don’t want to just win one title, we want to win multiple MLS Cups, we want to compete every year and the way to do that is to make a project is sustainable and replicable,” he said. “That means getting a DP at the right age, with the right experience at the right time and certainly we’re going to continue our pursuit to try to add a Designated Player in January.”

Lagerwey’s comments were clearly self-serving. That his session with reporters began with a three-minute opening statement — in which he detailed some of the challenges the team faced this year, how he felt the roster basically need a healthy dose of rebuilding and kinda patted himself on the back for the work the front office has done in overcoming those issues — suggested he was well aware of the criticisms that have been levied.

Still, it’s hard to argue with some of his basic points about the current roster now that they look healthy and international duty shouldn’t be as big of an issue:

  • Even without Gonzalez, the team has three Designated Players and three more TAM players.
  • The defense is comprised of arguably the top fullback duo, two of the most accomplished center backs and a All-Star goalkeeper.
  • Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris are already United States internationals and just 22 years old.
  • Within a couple weeks, Will Bruin and Gustav Svensson may be pushed to reserve roles. Bruin has already scored eight goals and Svensson has already played more than 2,000 minutes and is the only player on the team to appear in every game.

Lagerwey didn’t get into this, but a team that was once relying upon what was effectively a sixth-choice right back and has had somewhat of a revolving door at left mid, will now have accomplished veterans like Brad Evans, Harry Shipp and Lamar Neagle fighting for minutes. Promising younger players like Aaron Kovar, Tony Alfaro, Jordy Delem and Nouhou are likely going to be fighting just to make the gameday roster.

Yes, it’s frustrating that the Sounders allowed a second straight transfer window to close without adding a Designated Player. There’s no denying they had the resources to make such a signing and failing to do so means they’ve not maximized their opportunities.

Still, it’s tough to be too mad when you consider everything above, especially when they are three points from the top of the Western Conference table with a home-heavy schedule remaining. Lagerwey’s job isn’t just to improve the top of the roster, after all, it’s to set them up for a strong title defense without handicapping the future.

“The idea is to give my coach choices but also introduce stability,” Lagerwey said. “We need stability now in the stretch run and I think we’ve been able to accomplish that.”