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What to expect before the start of the Sounders’ 2022 season

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Sounders front office shares some insight into the offseason.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

TUKWILA, Wash. — It is now almost cliché to point out that no other MLS team has enjoyed the Seattle Sounders’ level of success since 2009. That a 60-point season could even be considered a letdown is testament to that.

Disappointed as they may have been, however, the Sounders braintrust also admitted on Friday during their end-of-season press conference that having a few extra weeks of rest might not be the worst thing. This was, after all, the first time in three years that the Sounders hadn’t stretched their season to the absolute limit and the last two seasons had the added stress of dealing with various Covid-19 protocols.

“One of the things we saw was our staff was tired, mentally really, really fatigued,” Sounders GM and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey said. “We have a really good staff and these are guys who don’t complain. But it is a thing.

“We do need a break right now. Collectively, we need time to go home, see family, be safe, be relaxed, get away from soccer. Hopefully we come back rejuvenated and ready but we have to listen to our people at the same time.”

For those like Lagerwey, Sporting Director Craig Waibel and head coach Brian Schmetzer, the offseason will have to wait a bit longer. Fresh off of notifying players whether or not they’d be planning to bring them back, the trio set the table for the next couple months.

Here are some of the main takeaways:

Filling from within

The Sounders have historically opened training camp a little short on numbers and have rarely — if ever — filled up their entire roster. Lagerwey said that is likely to change in 2022.

The first addition to the roster was unofficially announced on Friday when Waibel revealed that Tacoma Defiance forward Sam Adeniran had signed a first-team contract for 2022, which brings the roster to 20. At least several of the Sounders’ currently out-of-contract players are also expected to return and there will likely be some more signings coming out of the Defiance and Sounders Academy. Just going off those internal signings, the Sounders will likely be close to 25 rostered players when training camp opens in mid-January.

Lagerwey did not say exactly who the Sounders plan to bring back and/or sign from within the organization, some of the new names to watch include Sota Kitahara, Jackson Ragen, Obed Vargas, Dylan Teves and Alex Villanueva. I also expect at least a few of Will Bruin, Jordy Delem, Fredy Montero, Shane O’Neill, Spencer Richey, Alex Roldan and Kelyn Rowe to re-sign, but I don’t expect any news on that front at least until after the MLS Expansion Draft.

Speaking of Alex Roldan

Of all the players out of contract, the one who presents the most pressing concern is probably Alex Roldan. The Sounders did make Roldan a “bona fide” offer, which allows them to retain his MLS rights but he is technically able to move abroad on a free.

Losing the All-Star right back would present some significant challenges to the Sounders, but Lagerwey seemed confident that Roldan would be back with a new contract. The Sounders have a long history with the entire Roldan family and seem confident that, at the very least, Alex isn’t going to sign somewhere else without them a chance to counter and they are obviously very keen on keeping him.

Limited movement

Lagerwey was quick to note that he doesn’t envision a lot of intra-league movement this year due in no small part to this being the third consecutive year of a flat salary-cap. The flat budget has not precluded most players from receiving their annual 5% raises, which has a compounding effect of causing a significant squeeze. That helps explain a lot of the decisions around the Sounders declining some of those contract options.

The Sounders did gain some added flexibility with João Paulo’s transfer fee coming off his salary cap hit, too. Lagerwey said they are likely to use that third Designated Player spot as more of an accounting mechanism, which will allow them to save some allocation money while also opening up two more U22 Initiative roster spots.

What’s going on with Raúl?

Perhaps no move has more potential to upset any plans the Sounders may have is Raúl Ruidíaz’s departure. Ruidíaz has apparently made it known that he’s unhappy with the current state of negotiations on a contract extension, but Lagerwey did not outwardly express any particular concern. He termed negotiations both “cordial” and “professional.”

“We’ll work together to try to get a good resolution for everybody,” Lagerwey said. “Worst-case is he’s under contract for next year and if we have to solve something for 2023, we will. But our preference is to try to work out a deal. We want to keep him here with the Sounders long term.”