SEATTLE — Once the dust settles and all the signings and re-signings are announced, the Seattle Sounders will have something like 28 players under contract. For a team that routinely enters preseason with closer to 20, this is a major departure.
While that’s great from a stability perspective, what often gives the early parts of preseason their energy is all the competition for spots. With so much of the roster settled, this year’s preseason seemed likely to lack that aspect.
Potentially contributing to that problem was that many of those veterans have been missing from these early days of training. Some of them were with their respective national teams, others were awaiting immigration paperwork while some were in health and safety protocols.
Both of these potential problems were addressed by including about a dozen players from Tacoma Defiance and Sounders Academy in these early sessions.
Wednesday’s session at Lumen Field started with the first-teamers and Defiance/Academy players mostly grouped together. But it later evolved into five-a-side games with mixed squads. For the most part, the Defiance and Academy players held their own with their much more-seasoned teammates.
Presumably, most of these players realize that a first-team roster spot is likely out of their immediate reach. At the same time, they don’t need to look very hard to find examples of youngsters who first caught the attention of Brian Schmetzer & Co. in similar circumstances. Last year AB Cissoko changed the org’s plans due to his performances during preseason.
Some of the players who got their shot in previous camps were looking particularly comfortable on Wednesday. Obed Vargas, the 16-year-old who just signed a first-team contract, already looks to be able to hold his own physically. Sam Adeniran, another recent first-team signee, looks like he’ll be a handful for opposing centerbacks. Dylan Teves, a rookie out of the University of Washington, was smooth in possession.
Asked if anyone has stood out yet, Brian Schmetzer demurred and said it was still a bit too early. He did, however, say that they’ll be playing a full-sided scrimmage on Thursday, which he implied might be a bit of a final tryout to see who stays with the team when they move training camp to Tucson, Arizona.
Who’s in camp?
Here’s a quick list of the first-team players who have been spotted at training: Albert Rusnák, Kelyn Rowe, Will Bruin, Teves, Reed Baker-Whiting, Brad Smith, Raúl Ruidíaz, AB Cissoko, Vargas, Leó Chú, Adeniran, Ethan Dobbelaere, Stefan Frei, Stefan Cleveland, Thomas, Jimmy Medranda, Fredy Montero, and Danny Leyva.
These are the Defiance players we’ve identified: Jackson Ragen, Eric Kinzner, Juan Alvarez, Marlon Vargas, Joe Hafferty, Ray Serrano, Sota Kitahara, and Randy Mendoza.
The academy players have been more of a mystery, but we did spot Michael Luande (2006) and Jack-Ryan Jeremiah (06). There were about a half-dozen others, as well.
Trialists include draftees Achille Robin and Hal Uderitz. Former Lakeside High, UC-Davis, and FC Tucson keeper Wallis Lapsley is in camp as well.
What’s up with Nico and JP?
Two of the most conspicuous absences during the early days of training have been Nicolás Lodeiro and João Paulo. Schmetzer said both were excused and are expected to join the team soon.
Lodeiro was apparently in health and safety protocol — which is usually code for a positive Covid-19 test — but is expected to be in Seattle before the team leaves for Arizona on Monday. The Sounders have indicated that Lodeiro’s injured knee is not currently a problem.
João Paulo remains in Brazil where he’s working on obtaining his green card. While his return to Seattle is a little harder to predict as a result, once he is here that will open up an international roster spot.
That would leave the Sounders with three open international roster spots, one more than they have room on the roster. If they don’t intend to fill those spots, they could trade at least one. The going rate for international roster spots is currently about $250,000 in General Allocation Money.
Where is everyone else?
The other missing Sounders are mostly on international duty. Yeimar is likely the one who will return first. After playing in a friendly with Colombia, he was not named to the roster for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan are currently with the United States. They could be back as soon as next week or as late as the first week of February, depending on if they make the World Cup qualifying roster.
The others will likely all be gone at least another couple of weeks. Xavier Arreaga is expected to remain with Ecuador for their qualifiers and Cameroon is playing so well that it wouldn’t be surprising if Nouhou is busy until the Africa Cup of Nations final on Feb. 6.
The final two unaccounted-for players are Josh Atencio and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez. An official reason has not yet been given for their absences, but they are expected to join the team shortly.