The World Cup is always special. It’s how, I’d wager, most of us first decided we liked soccer. I know it is for me and if you’ll indulge me a bit, here’s my origin story (don’t worry I’ll get to my point soon enough)…
I grew up in the Bay Area and first became aware of big-time soccer when the 1994 World Cup came to town. But truth be told, I didn’t really pay much attention until 1998 when I started watching it because my now-wife and her mom were interested. But even then, it was more a sideshow. In 2002, I watched a bunch of games mainly because I had insomnia much of that summer, but got hooked when the USA beat Mexico (for whom my wife was rooting at the time). Still, though, my interest was really only ignited every four years.
Then in 2006, things got a bit more serious. My good friend suggested we go to the Germany World Cup, or at least spend that time in Europe while it was going on. I can tell you exactly when I got hooked for life: Watching France upset Brazil 1-0 while jumping around in a packed Dublin bar. I had experienced some pretty intense games before that, but this was another level entirely. My relationship with soccer has never been the same since and my ability to find in Seattle a similar atmosphere to that one in the Dublin bar is a big reason why I started following and then covering the Sounders.
Faster forward to 2022 and it’s a little surreal that six players (Xavier Arreaga, Aaron Long, Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan, Nouhou and DeAndre Yedlin) who I’ve spent significant time covering are likely heading to the World Cup. Probably even more remarkable, the Sounders — a team that was playing in front of tiny USL crowds and facing an uncertain future in 2006 — can plausibly claim to have played a significant role in developing those six players, four of them are currently on their roster and two were raised playing on the area’s youth fields.
I’ve found myself thinking about this photo a lot over the past few days. That’s Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris posing for a selfie at the front of the March to the Match before the USA’s Copa America Centenario match against Ecuador at Lumen Field in 2016. Morris was a Sounders rookie and Roldan was in his second professional season at the time. Both were just 21, basically kids who were just thrilled to be taking in the atmosphere of an important USMNT match being played in their home stadium.
I suppose you could reasonably argue that Morris could plausibly dream of playing in a World Cup at some point — he did already have nine caps at that point — but Roldan had never even been involved in the youth national team setup, let alone a realistic path to playing in the world’s biggest sporting event.
Even Morris’ path was circuitous in ways he never could have imagined. He was a fringe national-teamer when the United States failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament, but then suffered an ACL tear a few months after that ignominious loss to Trinidad and Tobago. Morris worked himself back into form good enough that we were all openly wondering if he might actually be a starter at the 2022 World Cup, only to suffer another ACL tear just as his career seemed to entering the elite phase.
Roldan’s place in the national team has never seemed quite as secure. Despite being called into the squad throughout the qualifying process, Roldan didn’t make a single start and only played about 85 minutes in those 18 matches.
That both were among Gregg Berhalter’s 26-man roster speaks to the trust they’ve gained from him, as well as their teammates. They are univerisally praised for their work ethic in training and their positive attitudes, and on a team that seems to feel that their togetherness can help overcome some talent disadvantage, their inclusion makes a ton of sense.
But that also feels a bit diminishing to their actual soccer contributions. I’m not at all convinced that Berhalter used two spots on players who are there purely for vibes. If given the opportunity, I’m confident either of them are capable of positively affecting a game or two.
What I’m hearing
Backup forward is a top priority: I don’t think this qualifies as a bombshell revelation, but I did get confirmation that the Sounders are in the market for a backup striker. Their preference is to bring in a relatively young player from abroad who can ideally develop into Raúl Ruidíaz’s longterm replacement, but they’re confident that there are plenty of viable veteran options from elsewhere around MLS.
Every year, the MLS free agent market gets better and better. Among the names I’ve heard mentioned as possible targets for the Sounders are Ola Kamara (28 goals over the last two seasons) and Gyasi Zardes (19 goals over the past two years). While it’s possible those players may be looking for starter’s minutes, it’s equally plausible that they’re at the parts of their careers where a diminished role could be an acceptable trade-off for chasing silveware, something the Sounders fully intend to be doing in 2023.
Garth Lagerwey’s uncertain future: The results of the third-ever Sounders GM vote will be revealed on Wednesday during the in-person Annual Business Meeting. I fully expect Lagerwey to be retained by an overwhelming majority. But that itself doesn’t guarantee he’ll be back.
Lagerwey will be officially out of contract at the end of the year and while there are cordial discussions about an extension, I do think he’s going to at least take some calls about other opportunities. The good news is there simply aren’t a lot of better options for Lagerwey, who seems very happy with his current position.
But he’s an ambitious guy who at 49 isn’t quite ready to stop his professional growth. As good as he has it here, Lagerwey wouldn’t mind being a bit higher on org chart. That probably would require him going somewhere he has at least some oversight of the business side of the operation and maybe even a seat on the league’s prestigious Product and Competition Committee. Notably, that’s a position Darren Eales held before he left Atlanta United for Newcastle.
Everything you need to know
The Sounders managed to escape the MLS Expansion Draft relatively unscathed despite exposing a few players I think would have made enticing picks for St. Louis City. That seems to have not been entirely just good luck, however, as it appears the Sounders were able to work out a handshake deal that sent St. Louis an international roster spot at a discounted price in exchange for not picking a player. If eating $100,000 in General Allocation Money was the price for losing one of five open international roster spots but holding onto players like Jackson Ragen and Stefan Cleveland, that was a bargain.
In what has become an annual tradition, Uruguay’s Nacional has made it known that they’d love to have Nicolás Lodeiro back. This time, their team president even went on record saying they’re doing “everything possible” to bring Lodeiro back to his boyhood club in 2023. Of course “everything possible” is probably several million dollars short of what it would actually take. Lodeiro very much remains part of the Sounders’ short-term plans, and unless he’s willing to take a massive pay cut, I don’t see any real possibility of him leaving. When Luis Suarez returned there last year, it was for a pro-rated salary that was reportedly for the equivalent of about $360,000. Lodeiro is due to make about 10 times that much with the Sounders.
If you need a quick cry, consider watching the videos U.S. Soccer put out of Morris and Roldan finding out they made the World Cup roster: