The 2018 MLS postseason ended painfully, to say the least, for Seattle Sounders FC, losing in penalties to their biggest rival. Down two of their most important players, Seattle put in a good fight but fell short in frustrating fashion. This offseason has been a quiet one from the Sounders, without splashy rumors and the roster churn that can help wipe a fan’s mental slate clean and prepare for a new year with fresh faces on the pitch. Instead, it has felt businesslike and focused. Maybe that consistency is a good thing, given the nearly-disastrous starts of previous seasons.
Even if you’ve tuned out the offseason, the team you see take the field against FC Cincinnati will look familiar. A squad of talented players already settled into their roles (who all remember the recent pain of being far outside the playoff picture at midseason) should make for some great entertainment and hopefully a strong start to the season.
Of course the last few months haven’t passed without important club news, though, and as you gear up for MLS games once again, we can all use a refresher to stay up to date. Let’s cover who's here, who’s gone, and what to expect from the Sounders going into 2019.
Osvaldo Alonso - Signed as a free agent (kinda) by Minnesota United
In 2018, Osvaldo Alonso—despite his age, high salary, and lessened impact on the pitch—was still a defining presence on the Sounders. As he always has throughout the team’s MLS era, Ozzie did his best to patrol the midfield with grit and passion last season, but put in a career-low in minutes played.
In 2019, the Sounders begin a new era with Alonso’s departure to Minnesota, one with no remaining players from their inaugural MLS side. As a free agent, Alonso garnered offers from both FC Cincinnati and Minnesota United FC, with MNUFC having to trade up on one of many MLS lists to sign him. While it will hurt to see Ozzie suit up for another team, fans can be thankful it’s not a rival club, and also that a fan-favorite player will still be reportedly taking home a tidy $650,000 per year (from another club’s budget).
Waylon Francis - Traded to Columbus Crew
Waylon Francis returns to his former club, Columbus Crew SC, in exchange for the same amount of General Allocation Money that brought him to the Sounders: $50k. With Brad Smith returning to start the 2019 season, Nouhou remaining on the roster, and Kelvin Leerdam the presumptive starter on the right, Francis was unlikely to even match his 11 MLS starts from 2018. Meanwhile, Columbus has lost their starting right back to injury, and a deal was struck.
Lamar Neagle - Option declined
Ending his fourth stint with the team, Lamar Neagle moves on once again. The 31-year-old local native recently scored a goal while on trial with Phoenix Rising of USL Championship.
Tony Alfaro - Option declined
Tony Alfaro didn’t earn much confidence from the coaches in his limited appearances with the senior team during his time with the Sounders organization. However, he moves on to Chivas de Guadalajara of Liga MX, where he may develop into a better fit.
Calle Brown - Option declined
The addition of promising Homegrown Player Trey Muse (more on that below) meant that the Sounders had one too many goalkeepers. Brown has signed with new USL Championship team Loudon United FC.
Aaron Kovar - Out of contract
Despite a valuable skillset and a promising projection, Aaron Kovar never worked out for the Sounders. After a year on loan to LAFC, Kovar’s contract ran out, and he has decided to retire from professional soccer.
Felix Chenkam - Option declined
Felix was a bit of an emergency signing to the first team in May of 2018, and not too long after that had to undergo surgery for a herniated disc. Chenkam, once he is fully recovered, will likely feature for Tacoma Defiance this year.
This was a very quiet offseason in terms of credible rumors, but the truth is the Sounders have not done much shopping around in this window to create those whispers.
When your name appears on a Guardian list of 10 players worldwide that clubs should be looking at in the winter transfer window, you probably get pretty excited and maybe even start packing your bags. There has apparently been legitimate interest from French clubs and others for Nouhou’s services, and Nouhou was absent from camp (and sending quasi-cryptic tweets) for a period pending what the club said was visa issues. But France’s window has closed and the 21-year-old defender remains with the Sounders. If the Cameroonian continues on his current path it’s likely we’ll be talking about this again in the summer.
Another offseason, another bevy of stories predicting a move back to Boca Juniors for Nicolás Lodeiro (plus, a bonus Cruz Azul rumor). This time he even addressed them directly, with somewhat of a soft denial. We’ll just repeat the boilerplate here: While Lodeiro clearly loves his former club and may be open to a return at some point, the Sounders have not received inquiries from the Argentinian side, nor does that club seem to have room on their roster for Lodeiro.
Román Torres has been the subject of rumors more-or-less since he has arrived in Seattle. At first it was because he was a beloved member of his former team, and rumors of his imminent return garnered plenty of attention. More recently it has been because he has been relegated to a bench role. The centerback would certainly start for most MLS teams, and rumors of interest from LAFC, LA Galaxy, and FC Cincinnati have popped up. Torres was not with the team for part of preseason, fueling further speculation, but he returned to the bench in the final preseason matches and is expected to start the season with the Sounders.
Linked to the Sounders
- Brazilian defensive Midfielder Jadson garnered significant interest from the Sounders, according to his agent, but apparently there was no offer made to his club, Fluminense. He’s a player who is likely still very much on the Sounders radar.
- We are always vigilant in our following of Chris Henderson’s world travels, and combined with local reports it seems Seattle’s Sporting Director was tracking Peruvians Kevin Queveda and Aldair Fuentes.
- Miguel Trauco is yet another Peruvian reportedly of interest to the Sounders, but a more experienced player than those mentioned above. Trauco is a 26-year-old attacking left back with 30 caps for Peru.
- Nyasha Mushekwi is a Zimbabwean forward who plays for Dalian Yifang in the Chinese Super League, a club that is over their internationals limit after acquiring Emmanuel Boateng. There’s a rumor linking him to Seattle.
- This time we even tried to start our own Luis Suarez to Seattle rumor! (Sort of)
The Philadelphia Union dumped all their 2019 draft picks for allocation money, and that pretty much sums up the excitement of this year’s MLS SuperDraft. The Sounders nabbed some interesting players who may end up developing with Tacoma.
Pick 20: Air Force winger Tucker Bone
“Bone tested as the second most agile player at the Combine. The Falcons midfielder scored 13 goals with 6 assists as a senior to cap a career total of 25 goals and 22 assists. He started a majority of his final three years with Air Force Academy. He started 60 of 80 appearances overall.”
Pick 44: Creighton midfielder Joel Rydstrand
“Born in Uppsala, Sweden, Rydstrand will likely occupy an international roster slot if he is signed to a first-team contract. The Swede spent most of his youth with the IK Sirius academy. He ended the 2018 season as the Big East Midfielder of the Year and earned a spot on the United Soccer Coaches All-East Region Second Team”
Pick 68: San Diego State midfielder Aleks Berkolds
Seattle chose a player with at least some local connection in Berkolds. The 22-year-old from Northridge, California played as a midfielder on the Sounders FC U23s in 2016, though he was used as a defender with SDSU.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound centerback played 1,650 minutes over 18 games with SDSU in his senior season.
GM and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey has made clear he is happy with the state of the current roster, while still wanting to add one or two players in the next six months or so. But don’t expect a shiny blockbuster DP — Lagerwey wants to find players in the TAM range, and use the third DP slot on the third-most expensive player on the roster, whomever that might be. Thus, things have been relatively quiet in Sounders-land since the major investment in Raúl Ruidíaz.
That’s right, Jordan Morris is back, and we’re putting him square in the “additions” category. Oh, and he’s locked in with a new contract. He spent his recovery period studying, strengthening, and storing up all that Runs Right By Him energy for 2019. Since Ruidíaz has that speedy forward spot locked up, what will Jordan Morris as a winger look like? We got a taste of the answer Sunday against San Jose. Fingers crossed that Morris can pick up right where he left off.
The Sounders sent a fourth round 2020 SuperDraft pick to the Chicago Fire for Jonathan Campbell, a 26-year-old defender who had previously played for the Sounders U23s before being drafted. Campbell showed plenty of promise in his first years in the league, putting up impressive numbers for a young defender on a mostly-bad Fire team. The centerback offers quality depth and a fourth natural central defender after Tony Alfaro’s departure.
Trey Muse is a very highly-rated young goalkeeper who was added as a Homegrown Player in January. He was easily the best goalkeeper in college soccer last season, even making the shortlist for the Hermann Trophy—rare for a ‘keeper. Additionally, Muse is the first Sounders Homegrown Player from outside the region. The Louisville, Kentucky native stayed with a host family in Seattle and attended Roosevelt High School during his time in the Sounders Academy. This is a program the Sounders are very excited about and it has begun to bear fruit in bringing a top goalkeeper prospect to the pro level through the Homegrown Player mechanism.
State of the roster
In terms of depth across positions, the Sounders haven’t changed much in this offseason, with the exception of the return of Jordan Morris to availability. Calle Brown was replaced by Trey Muse. Jonathan Campbell came in as a fourth senior-team centerback to replace Tony Alfaro. Obviously the departures of Osvaldo Alonso and Waylon Francis leave holes in depth at defensive midfield and fullback, respectively, but these are departures the Sounders were prepared for. Cristian Roldan, Gustav Svensson, Jordy Delem, Harry Shipp and Nicolas Lodeiro can all play deep central midfield competently. Meanwhile, Cristian Roldan has shown he’s more than capable of filling in at right fullback when required, adding to the emergency options if some combination of Kelvin Leerdam, Jordan McCrary, Brad Smith, Nouhou and Henry Wingo can’t go.
Other than that, the biggest difference you’ll notice as the Sounders begin the 2019 regular season is going to be Morris and his new presence on the right side of midfield. He’s going to have a bit more defensive responsibility than before, but he’s a forward at heart and will be looking to terrorize the opposing left back as other players shift in behind him to cover when necessary. Role asymmetry is nothing new for the Sounders in their wide midfielders.
How they’ll look when completely healthy
Injuries and international absences being what they are, it’s entirely possible the Sounders will never play with an “ideal” starting XI, but this is our best guess as to how it would look if they ever have the opportunity:
GK: Stefan Frei (he’ll start all 34 games if he stays healthy)
LB: Brad Smith (with Nouhou rotating)
CB: Chad Marshall (he seems fully recovered from knee surgery)
CB: Kim Kee-hee (firmly established as first choice, with Román Torres available for rotation)
RB: Kelvin Leerdam (expect him to start every game he’s healthy)
DM: Cristian Roldan (Schmetzer will get him somewhere on the field every match)
DM: Gustav Svensson (if the Sounders make a TAM signing, he’s most likely to be bumped)
LM: Victor Rodriguez (has looked very solid in preseason)
CM: Nicolas Lodeiro (will start whenever healthy)
RM: Jordan Morris (Schmetzer will want his speed whenever he’s available)
FW: Raúl Ruidíaz (guaranteed starter when healthy)