As they do every year, the Seattle Sounders front office held a final press conference before heading into the what amounts to a winter hibernation that usually ends around the MLS SuperDraft.
With few exceptions, the Sounders are usually relatively inactive this time of year. Based on comments GM Garth Lagerwey made on Wednesday, this offseason may be even more inactive than most.
Here are some of the bigger takeaways:
Nicolas Lodeiro is back
Although the Sounders exercised their 2021 option on Lodeiro’s contract, the midfielder had made it known that he was not looking forward to playing under that sort of uncertainty. That’s no longer a concern. The biggest announcement from the press conference was that Lodeiro is now signed through at least 2023 and will remain a Designated Player throughout. Lodeiro will be 34 when that contract is due to expire.
“We wanted to avoid a situation where we’re entering the last year of his contract and wanted to get something figured out,” Lagerwey said. “We’re very excited to have him back as the cornerstone.
“It’s important to say that Nico is clearly a DP. We never talked to him about anything other than being a DP. He’s the best player on the team. He’s already the best Sounder ever.”
João Paulo is probably back
The situation is not quite as clear with fellow DP João Paulo, whose loan from Brazil’s Botofogo will soon expire. The Sounders had the option to exercise a full transfer that would have reportedly also triggered a two-year contract extension, but are apparently still negotiating with Botofogo on those terms.
“Our intention is to try to bring JP back,” Lagerwey said. “I think he wants to come back. He had a very good first year. That will be determined based on negotiations. In my experience, when the player wants to stay, and the player wants to get it done, something gets done.”
Most likely, the negotiations are simply an attempt to save some money on what was originally reported as a $1.2 million transfer fee. But even if the Sounders can negotiate that down, Lagerwey indicated he’s expecting João Paulo to remain a DP.
Brian Schmetzer’s extension is progressing
Again, nothing was ready to be announced, but all signs point to Schmetzer coming back. The Sounders head coach would very obviously rather be done with all this talk and has clearly not finalized an extension, but like João Paulo seems much more likely to be back than not.
“I’ve always said I hope to be back,” Schmetzer said. “I’m hopeful we can get something done. Both sides are willing to try to push. It’s late in the year but I think we can push it across the finish line.”
Lagerwey basically echoed those comments.
“Brian and I are aligned,” he said. “We want to bring back Brian and his staff. I spoke to his representative and hopefully we’ll get there.”
There’s not a lot of extra money
Whether or not the Sounders want to spend money this offseason, Lagerwey suggested their hands are pretty well tied. Between Lodeiro’s extension, João Paulo’s likely extension and Raúl Ruidíaz being under contract for two more years, the Sounders are unlikely to have an open DP spot anytime soon. Add in a static salary cap and some of the raises players have earned — Jordan Morris is likely due something closer to $1 million in 2021, for instance — and there’s simply not a ton of wiggle room.
“We’re at the mature part of the cycle,” Lagerwey said, noting that the team had little choice but to cut loose players like Gustav Svensson and Joevin Jones, who were both on TAM-level contracts. “We hit the salary-cap wall at the end of the season.
“The pool of resources is next-to-zero. There’s no plan to have an impact addition in the January window from outside the league. We still can’t scout, we still can’t travel, we don’t want to spend big money on a player we don’t know.”
Lagerwey suggested that while they won’t necessarily be reliant upon some of the team’s younger players to step into more productive roles, the opportunity will certainly be there for them to fill the void.
“There will be fewer experienced players on Sounders next year,” Lagerwey said. “That’s part of the cycle. It’s not a rebuild. I think we’d still have a pretty impressive starting lineup. We’re entering the next phase where we have prospects that are candidates to fill some of those minutes.”
Competition at right back
If we’re to take Schmetzer at his word, he felt Alex Roldan gave the Sounders their best chance to win MLS Cup even with Kelvin Leerdam on the bench. With Leerdam now out of contract and his prospects of returning very much unknown, Roldan is the penciled-in starter, at least for now.
Right back is also the position where it seems like the Sounders are most likely to try to create some competition. There’s always the possibility that Leerdam could agree to return on a reduced contract. Beyond that, Schmetzer suggested they could look at one of the myriad re-entry drafts or to the USL to bolster the position.
“There are all sorts of different options yet because we don’t have a full roster as of this moment,” Schmetzer said. “The trick is for him to retain some of that confidence that he’s built up, while still being realistic with him. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that he’ll be a valuable Sounder for awhile.”
Where’s that leave things?
As usual, the Sounders weren’t quite ready to completely shut the door on any of the veterans who are currently out of contract. No one seems to have worn out their welcome and any could potentially be back on the right number. Notably, though, the Sounders weren’t really laying the groundwork for anyone of those out-of-contract players to return other than João Paulo.
The reality is that this is a weird point in the soccer world. While there will surely be teams who throw caution to the wind and make some big signings this offseason, the Sounders seem more than ready to wait until the dust settles and save whatever money they have for the summer. It’s not the most satisfying way to enter the offseason, but the Sounders do have 10 of 11 MLS Cup starters and 13 of their 16 most used players likely coming back. This might not be a championship team as currently constructed but it is one that should be competitive out of the gate.