TUKWILA, Wash. — The Seattle Sounders have much to consider going into their first long(er) offseason in three years. Gathering at Starfire Sports Tuesday, club personnel made it clear that work toward next season has already begun and that the team is confident of impending success.
Here are a few of the major takeaways from the afternoon:
Sounders vow for faster start
After three straight years of lackluster beginnings to the season, the Sounders are already dialing in on having a stronger opening phase of the 2019 campaign.
“As a coaching staff, we’ve already begun to work on preseason for next year,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “This year, we’ve made sure that we can take care of all the little details for this preseason. Our hotels, our training, our opponents. Everything is dialed in. We’re working on our game model for next season to incorporate Jordan (Morris) and get that dialed in so we as a coaching staff will be prepared.”
Schmetzer went on to say that he felt the 2018 start was an “anomaly” due to the number of significant injuries to the team in the early matches. He also suggested that the late arrival of new fitness coach Damian Roden had an impact on health.
“We were really strapped there for months without our full squad,” Schmetzer said. “I think the preparation we’re going to do, the knock-on-wood that we don’t have the amount of injuries, the cohesion and bringing a very talented team back for next season is going to help us prepare for not having a slow start.”
It’s getting easier to recruit internationals
Sporting Director Chris Henderson was not shy about saying how the club’s success has made it easier to sell international players on the idea of coming to Seattle.
“We have a video on our club that we share with people,” Henderson said. “It’s pretty impressive. I think having players like (Osvaldo Alonso) having players like Obafemi Martins, Gustav Svensson, current national team members playing in the World Cup, it makes our job easy when we’re out there talking about our club. Selling that dream of coming to MLS, for the first time I’ve been out in South American and Europe where I feel like the level of the league is at the point where it’s not a hard sell anymore.”
Brad Smith recall is up in the air
General manager Garth Lagerwey said that Australian left back Brad Smith has a two-day recall option to the Premier League’s AFC Bournemouth at the start of the January transfer window. Lagerwey did not go into greater detail about whether he expected Bournemouth to recall Smith, but said the club would deal with that situation if it arose.
Academy pipeline enters “Phase Two”
In the wake of the Sounders U17’s first national title, the developmental wing of the Sounders is looking to enter a new chapter in 2019. That will mostly entail transitioning those players into a more professional environment.
“What I’d say is that we’re entering phase two,” Lagerwey said. “We got through phase one; we built the talent in the academy, we won a national title, we put ourselves in a position to create good players. Phase two is to improve the USL team and have them be competitive on a game-in, game-out basis. Phase three is have the kids make meaningful contributions to the first team. If you look at the ages of kids that we’re signing, that makes sense. Will we sign some of these kids to the first team? That’s possible, yes. Coach Schmetzer has been really open about young players. We’re going to take a bunch of them to preseason and we’re going to see how they do.”
Don’t expect Felix Chenkam or Aaron Kovar back
Felix Chenkam, who had his contract option declined by the Sounders Monday, is unlikely to re-sign with Sounders 2, Lagerwey said. The Sounders GM said he expects Chenkam to pursue other options in his career at this point in time.
Chenkam had a rough 2018. Scoring four goals in 11 appearances with S2, The Cameroonian was signed to a first-team contract when the squad was decimated by injuries, but never made an appearance in league play before suffering a herniated disc in August.
Similarly, Aaron Kovar’s loan to LAFC has ended and the Lagerwey only said “he’s exploring what he wants to do with the next stage of his career.”
A new No. 3?
With the release of Calle Brown, the Sounders are in the market for a third goalkeeper. One possibility is that they’ll sign Trey Muse as a Homegrown Player. Since the Academy product is currently starring for Indiana University’s men’s soccer team, the Sounders are limited in what they can say. While noting that he knows Muse’s college coach from playing together on a “midwest regional” team, Lagerwey offered this: “He’s generally considered the best goalkeeper in college, definitely a player in whom we have interest and ... he’s definitely a player we have our eye on.”
Ruidíaz was better than advertised
Schmetzer is looking forward to the concept of a full season of Raul Ruidiaz up top for the Sounders. Arriving in mid-July after Peru’s World Cup campaign ended, Ruidiaz set a blistering pace, scoring 10 goals in 14 regular-season matches to help push Seattle to the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. Ruidiaz remained hot in the postseason, scoring three of Seattle’s four goals, including a late goal to push Seattle’s conference semifinal second leg against Portland into overtime.
“The thing that surprised me was that the kid wanted to defend a bit more than what we saw on film,” Schmetzer said. “I remember games where he’d chase guys back onto our defensive half of the field. That’s the kind of commitment that we want from players, the guy that has integrity to do the little things to help us win.”
“Salivating” at the offensive possibilities
Just in case there was any doubt as to how big of a role the Sounders still see for Jordan Morris, the front office reiterated their high expectations. Schmetzer was particularly excited to see how Morris would look with Ruidíaz.
“Yeah, I’m salivating, but we have to get them on the field together to see what they can do,” he said. “He’s already shown a good relationship with Nico, so we hope that continues. The only reality check that I would say is that Nico came in 2016 and set the world on fire, and then teams got a little more film on him. Are teams going to have more film on Raul, how to slow him down and where he likes to get the ball? We’ll have to address that.
“That’s one of the thigns that makes me feel confident about our squad. Teams might do that and figure this is how we can slow this guy down. But then you have Jordan Morris over here and you’ve got Nico doing his thing and Victor who came on strong and the outside backs get into the attack. I get fired up about that. It will be interesting to see.”