Barring a somewhat major surprise, the Seattle Sounders will watch the May 1 transfer deadline come and go without making a major move. This will assuredly be accompanied by some very loud — and maybe even justified — complaints. After all, Jordan Morris’ injury happened nearly two months ago and the Sounders have been open about their need to replace him.
Sounders GM and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey seems to have made peace with this, but also insists that if a move isn’t made now it’s to serve a larger purpose.
“I’ve thought for awhile that it was going to be tough to get something done now,” Lagerwey told me during Friday’s training session (full interview will be available on the next Nos Audietis). “A lot of that is World Cup related. It would take a surprise. Realistically [a Designated Player signing] is very likely in the summer, and that’s OK. We believe we have a good team. We’re slowly, slowly getting healthy. There are reasons for optimism.”
As he has done many times in previous public comments, Lagerwey pointed to the last two years as proof that there is plenty of talent on this roster. He believes that the Sounders have played reasonably well since the end of CONCACAF Champions League and that they’ll continue to improve as they approach full health. His belief in the roster as it is already assembled gives him the confidence to wait until summer, when the DP-quality players the Sounders have targeted are more likely to be willing to switch teams.
“Our worldview is we have a decent team and we’re going to bring in players who make us clearly better,” Lagerwey said, pointedly refuting the suggestion that simply adding a backup quality striker would have been preferable to standing pat. “The DP you’re talking about is a 3.5-year deal at a minimum. As much as it would appease some people to sign that player in three months, I would argue the future the franchise is much more tied to the next three years.
“I don’t disagree that that might cause some short-term pain, but that’s my job to be able to weather some storms and have some critical pieces written, which I understand. It’s not out of complacency, it’s about this idea that I’m charged with being the steward of the club over a longer period of time than one transfer window.”
Of course, Lagerwey also acknowledged that these sort of frustrations aren’t borne of one transfer window. The last time the Sounders signed a DP was in the summer of 2016. Ever since then, they’ve had the ability to buy down Osvaldo Alonso’s contract to open a DP spot but not done so.
It hasn’t been for a lack of trying. Keisuke Honda was reportedly close to signing last winter and the Sounders went down to the wire in a failed attempt to sign Derlis Gonzalez last summer. Similarly, Lagerwey suggested the team nearly signed a DP in January. Either way, this will be the third straight window that has closed without the Sounders filling a potentially open DP spot.
“Honestly, it hasn’t been one where we felt we have to do this right now,” Lagerwey said. “But what I’d say is, with Morris going out now we have to do that and I have no problem saying that either. Wait for the right time, find the right deal, find the right player, find the right fit. But candidly if we’d have signed the player we were pursuing in January and Jordan had gotten hurt, we wouldn’t be up ... a creek but it wouldn’t have been ideal in terms of the fit with the rest of the group and I think we’d have been criticized for that as much as having waited.”
For some people this will come off as just more of the same. While their competitors make flashy signings from all over Europe and South America, the Sounders have appeared content to make lower-profile moves designed to bolster the overall strength of the roster. Their two most recent signings — Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Kim Kee-hee — have collectively made two league starts and have primarily been used as backups. They might prove to be strong squad players, but neither appear likely to be game-changing talents.
With the Sounders off to a 1-4-1 start that has already put their stated goal of hosting MLS Cup in jeopardy, it seems fair to wonder if Lagerwey is guilty of being too patient.
“I don’t mean to be condescending by saying we’re a decent team, but if you have some floor that you believe the team won’t fall below, it makes for more rational building strategy,” he said. “If you have belief in the group, you have to think big picture and that, by its nature, may upset some folks. That’s what we have to tolerate and understand, and hopefully to have a conversation like this and address it and say we’re not going to please everybody but here’s what we’re doing, here’s why we’re doing it, be transparent about it and people will debate it and hopefully keep showing up to the stadium.”
This all may come off a bit self-serving, as if by talking about the future that the present can be perpetually excused. Nothing if not self aware, Lagerwey knows that. But while he’s clearly preparing for another window to close in a less-than-satisfying way, he’s also defending the decisions that brought us here.
“If the perception is that we’re not taking seriously the first part of the season, I would say we’re trying to make long-term decisions not short-term decisions, and decisions that are in the best interests of our players, not around a crisis - whether invented or real - in March,” he said. “There just really aren’t must-win games in April, and that doesn’t mean you’re throwing away the season or that those games are unimportant or you can afford to fall double-digit points behind, but we feel there are better ways ahead.”