A very quiet offseason got an injection of excitement recently when a bevy of rumors suddenly surfaced. At least two of those look to real enough that they warrant some deeper discussion. What are your initial reactions to the likelihood that the Sounders are going to soon sign Brazilian midfielder João Paulo and Colombian centerback Yeimar Gomez Andrade?
Mark Kastner: I think I’m personally more excited for Yeimar Gomez Andrade. In my eyes, a partner for Xavier Arreaga was the number one need for this offseason. Andrade seems like a fantastic solution to fill the Chad Marshall-sized hole in the defense, and the numbers of the deal only make it better. João Paulo certainly seems like a Plan B to other moves in central midfield. Some of the concerns over his true position don’t bother me, but it’s always hard to get excited for a move that doesn’t seem first choice. That’s not to say he’s not going to be a good player, but we’ll see.
Tim Foss: I’m pretty excited, it feels like the two signings together set the team up pretty well to go into this season and compete right away — even considering the congestion with CCL — while also hopefully helping to ease the transition in midfield with the likelihood that Gustav Svensson probably moves on after this year. Garth and the front office clearly identified their two primary areas of need and went out and found high-quality answers there, even if they weren’t both their first-choices.
I do feel a little bit of what Mark does about João Paulo, but I’m excited to see what is asked of him while paired with Svensson.
Mark: I’m really excited to make Pastor Gomez jokes.
Jeremiah Oshan: I’m probably more excited about Yeimar just because he seems like an absolute beast and strikes me as a perfect pairing for Arreaga — who I think might have a Defender of the Year run in him — but I’ve also maybe talked myself into being more intrigued by João Paulo. That he’s not a prototypical destroyer suggests to me that the Sounders are looking to play a more fluid style, and adding another versatile piece to the midfield could be really fun to watch.
Assuming these deals both get done, what’s next on your to-do list?
Tim: The next item on the big whiteboard that I assume lives in Lagerwey’s office is probably “Choose your favorite kids” and sign some Academy and Defiance players to homegrown deals to fill out the roster and provide some depth.
Mark: I wrote earlier this week about how I think Cristian Roldan can do a job on the wing. At some point, hopefully this summer, they move for a DP level player for that position. That’s not happening this offseason, though. I think the next biggest need is competition and/or backup for Kelvin Leerdam. Leerdam is still a top-level RB in MLS, but I worried at times last season about him. A young understudy wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Tim: Yeah, I do think that’s actually probably the next actual need. Depth elsewhere is definitely important, but more of a “want” than a “need.” It seems like they’re trying to find out if Alex Roldan could be the next guy, but I’m sort of hesitant to have the guy behind Leerdam be someone who’s never played the position.
Jeremiah: I am definitely down with the idea of adding a quality backup at RB, which also leaves me questioning the decision to let Saad Abdul-Salaam walk. Alex Roldan does intrigue me though.
Mark: If I may be cynical for a second — we were talked into Henry Wingo being the backup RB last preseason and we saw how that played out. I think that’s probably the same for Alex.
Tim: Look, if Roldan wants to hang out for a few months before a Scandinavian team throws the Sounders some pocket change for him, I’m down.
Jeremiah: I think it’s also worth remembering that at this point last year, the Sounders also had Jordan McCrary. Abdul-Salaam sort of fell into their laps. I suppose they might be giving Roldan a chance to win this job, but there’s no way he’s their Plan A as a backup, right?
Mark: I hope not. I’d rather see Cristian there, with Handwalla Bwana or Harry Shipp on the wing.
Jeremiah: Oooooh, now that’s an interesting possibility I had not considered. Might the Sounders see Cristian Roldan as a long-term option at RB?
Tim: Their track record of trying to transition young-ish guys into defensive roles hasn’t been great. They seem to find themselves in a position where the project has to be abandoned, for better or worse. Maybe Alex works out, but I agree that’s probably not their Plan A.
Mark: I hope not. [Gestures wildly to the fancy stats in my article]
Tim: I think Cristian Roldan as a long-term option at RB seems like a waste of a very good player.
Let’s assume 2-3 players from the Defiance/Academy get signed in preseason. Who’s got the best shot?
Mark: I’m going to let Tim take this question. He’s the expert, after all.
Tim: I think Sam Rogers still has the best opportunity for a spot, even with the additions of Yeimar and Shane O’Neill. He and the team both seem to want him to make that jump, and I think he can and will. After him, I’d put Shandon Hopeau as the guy with the next best chance. He’s consistently grown year after year in USL, and he definitely seems ready to prove himself with the first team. There are a few other guys after them, like Josh Atencio, Danny Robles, and Ethan Dobbelaere, who could make the jump, but Azriel Gonzalez seems like he’s the most capable of making the roster and making an impact when he gets his opportunities. He’s 18 and already has shown in flashes that he can completely take over a game in USL.
Gonzalez can create and finish chances in a number of different ways, and seems like he’d be able to translate that to the next level.
Let’s talk a bit about the youngsters who are already on the team? Do either of you expect significant contributions from Danny Leyva or Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez this year?
Mark: Maybe this is a hot take, but I think I’d be okay with the Sounders having a season where Leyva and Ocampo-Chavez get limited minutes with the first team and spend most their time with Tacoma. That also means I’d be okay with most of the youngsters Tim mentioned staying in Tacoma as well. Maybe a deeper run in the US Open Cup gives them minutes.
Jeremiah: I think a “hot take” would be: Give the kids 1,500 MLS minutes and let them sink or swim. Your idea actually strikes me as rational and sensible.
Mark: If the Sounders are having to play Ocampo-Chavez or Leyva for 1500 minutes, something has gone very wrong.
Jeremiah: Neither player is 18 as of today and I think consistency is probably more important than anything else in terms of their development.
Tim: I agree, I think both players need to play games, and both seemed to be a bit worse off for all of the bouncing back and forth between teams last season. I think Leyva has the better path to first-team minutes between the two of them, but it’s probably better for everyone involved if they can spend most of the season in Tacoma and get close to 2,000 minutes.
Mark: It would be fun if Tacoma was good. Or at least better than last season.
Tim: If they got, say, 1,500 USL minutes and 500 MLS/USOC minutes, that’s probably a really good situation. Actually, I’d bump that USL number up.
Jeremiah: I suspect people would be surprised to learn that neither Leyva nor Ocampo-Chavez played even 1,200 minutes with the Defiance last year. It wasn’t because they didn’t earn it, it was because they were bouncing around at least four different teams.
Tim: Right. Neither appeared in more than half of Tacoma’s games, and they weren’t the only ones with that sort of inconsistency in terms of how many games they played. Only two guys appeared in more than 25 games for Tacoma last year, and if that improves I think the team itself will improve significantly.
I think the Sounders will benefit if the guys that they sign from Tacoma still play primarily with Tacoma and build up their confidence, so that when they do get their opportunities in MLS they’re ready and feeling themselves.
Let’s assume for the sake of this conversation that the Sounders don’t bring in another ‘impact’ player from outside the organization before the season. Are we comfortable with where the roster stands?
Mark: Yes. I am.
Tim: I am. As the team stands, I’m not even totally sure where you would target for a significant upgrade over the guy currently in the XI, assuming the two signings get done.
They’ll probably go after someone for the right wing so that Roldan can move back to the middle, but that’s definitely not something they need right now, and makes a lot more sense to wait to see who’s available in the summer.
Jeremiah: It is a remarkable turnaround. Even among the Sounder at Heart staff, I think there was a lot of rightful concern when training camp opened without a significant offseason signing. No offense to Shane O’Neill, but that didn’t really quiet anyone. But about a week later, we’re now talking about how all the big boxes are checked. That’s pretty remarkable!
Mark: #GarthOut, amirite?
Tim: I think the tone with which Garth seemed to be talking about the possibility of these kinds of moves as preseason started left a lot of room for concern.
Mark: I do wonder about one thing — Garth seemed like he didn’t want to do any moves without the CBA in place. I wonder if these moves are a sign that negotiations are further along?
Jeremiah: I think it at least suggests they know the direction things are going. But I think it’s going to be really interesting if either of these moves are announced as DP signings.
Tim: They do both look like they’d be TAM+ signings, and I wonder if some of the concern was whether or not that mechanism would continue to exist. It might be the case that even if that mechanism isn’t going to continue in its current form, owners were given some assurances that that money wouldn’t be going away.
Jeremiah: Yeah, I think that’s probably a fair read. I also wonder if the attitude became “Look, everyone else is spending money under this assumption, we should too.” Sort of a “better to beg forgiveness than ask permission” deal.
Mark: We call that “pulling an LA Galaxy”, I think.
Jeremiah: That’s the technical term.