TUKWILA, Wash. — The conditions were sub-optimal (and sub-freezing), but the Seattle Sounders got their first preseason training session underway Tuesday at Starfire Stadium, as they prepare for their second MLS Cup title defense in club history.
There were a few notable absences from the first training session, with Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris away on national team duty, and Gustav Svensson and Nouhou not yet in camp. Emmanuel Cecchini was also absent, but that could be a bit more permanent. Aside from that, the remainder of signed first-team players were out on the frozen pitch ready to get the season going.
As has been the case for most of the offseason, questions focused on the composition of the roster. The Sounders parted ways with several impact players — Roman Torres signed with expansion outfit Inter Miami, while Brad Smith (loan expired) appears to have reintegrated himself with A.F.C. Bournemouth of the English Premier League. MLS Cup MVP Victor Rodriguez is looking for options in Spain, while Kim Kee Hee’s time with the Sounders appears to be over, according to Sounders General Manager and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey, who addressed the press at the end of training. “Kim Kee Hee probably isn’t coming back,” Lagerwey said.
The South Korean center back’s departure leaves the Sounders temporarily with only one first-team center back on the roster, though the Sounders announced that MLS veteran Shane O’Neil was in training today with the team, and an announcement regarding his signing with team seems imminent, according to sources. That still leaves a couple of open spots at the position, and there is the opportunity for some younger prospects to step up and win one of those spots. The most obvious prospect being Sam Rogers, the former academy product turned Tacoma Defiance player. Rogers has had something of a star-crossed tenure with the Sounders.
Eschewing a scholarship to Villanova to sign with the USL side in 2017, it was believed that Rogers would quickly earn a first-team contract, but injuries and other issues have slowed his progress, and he traveled abroad last year to trial in Belgium. With the Sounders lack of depth at his position, Schmetzer made it clear that there is an opportunity he needs to seize this year.
“He has got to grab this opportunity,” Schmetzer said. “If that kid can not look at the squad and say, ‘this is my chance,’ then we’re going to have an issue. Ton of potential, but he has to grab hold of it, needs to work at it and he needs to see if he’s an MLS player.”
Even with the potential additions of O’Neil and Rogers, there are several holes left for the Sounders to address. Lagerwey again reiterated that the ongoing negotiations over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement have to some degree hamstrung what the team is able — or willing to do, at least as it pertains to high-impact signings.
“It’s been a really challenging offseason, without a CBA, you don’t know how much money you have,” Lagerwey said. “For better or worse, I’m pretty meticulous and pretty stubborn and I tend to plan things a long time in advance, and when you don’t tell me the rules, I tend to not be at my best.
“I think we want to add an impact piece or two before the season gets started, and that’s certainly our goal and that’s what we’ve been working on. As soon as we get that direction [on new CBA rules] we’ll move as fast as we can.”
Coming off of a MLS Cup title, both Lagerwey and Schmetzer noted some of the problems — high class though they may be — in trying to compete the next season, especially retaining players. It was an issue which affected the Sounders after the 2016 title win, and the Sounders are acutely aware of it this time around.
“That offseason, after you win, is always the roughest offseason,” Lagerwey said. “Everyone gets recruited [because] players get other opportunities.”
“It’s challenging to open training camp with not a full roster,” Schmetzer conceded. “Garth and Chris [Henderson] and Adrian [Hanauer], they’ve all been working super hard to fill the holes.”
- Cecchini, while listed on the Sounders preseason roster, was not present for training, and Schmetzer reiterated that the parties are working on a resolution which will likely see the player and team part ways. “Emmanuel came here and did everything that I asked,” Schmetzer said. “He was a good pro, he was part of the squad for the last half of the year. Things didn’t work out and sometimes that’s the way it goes.”
- Other notable unsigned players on the Sounders preseason training roster included MLS veteran Dillon Serna, goalkeeper Phillip Marceta and Alex Roldan, who is apparently vying for a spot after having his contract option declined at the end of the year.
- There were 16 Academy and Tacoma Defiance players participating in training, easily the most the Sounders have ever brought out this early. Among the notable names were Josh Atencio, Shandon Hopeau, Azriel Gonzalez, Chris Hegardt, Nick Hinds, Ethan Dobbelaere and Ray Serrano.
- Two of the three players the Sounders picked in the most recent MLS SuperDraft were in attendance. Danny Reynolds and Julian Avila-Good will most likely compete for spots with the Defiance.
- Former S2 head coach John Hutchinson was a notable observer. Although Lagerwey said he has not yet officially rejoined the organization, it sounds as though the plan is for him to work mostly with the first team’s younger players and to fill some of the gap created by Marc Nicholls’ departure.
- One other position that has not yet been filled is that of High Performance Director Damian Roden. Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Sean Muldoon has effectively been filling the position in the meantime.