For anyone accustomed to following the Seattle Sounders, this has been a strange offseason. While most offseasons are full of turnover that tend to leave the roster in a state designed to be supplemented in the summer, the current roster is both remarkably familiar and settled.
As the Sounders head into the final stage of preseason before their first competitive match on Feb. 17, they already have 27 players signed to first-team contracts and that’s after unexpectedly trading away Brad Smith last week.
The vast majority of those players were with the Sounders last year, as well. The Sounders are bringing back 16 of their 18 most-used players from 2021, Albert Rusnák is the only player on the current first-team roster who has never before played for the organization and Dylan Teves is the only other player who didn’t suit up for the first-team last year.
Rusnák, it should be noted, is coming off a season in which he had 11 goals and 11 assists and will be join a front six that already featured Raúl Ruidíaz, Nicolás Lodeiro, Jordan Morris, João Paulo and Cristian Roldan, all of whom have been named MLS Best XI or MLS All-Star Game starters in the last two years.
“I’ll just get right to the point: I think we’re going to be really good offensively,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “Albert adds another dimension, he loves shooting from top of the box, his set pieces are good. He’s going to add something. You’re bringing Jordan back, Nico’s coming back. I mean, the team looks pretty good offensively. Again, tempering expectations, it’s only been training but in training they look pretty sharp.”
Not only does the current roster look pretty well set, it should very similar for years to come. Jimmy Medranda is the only player on the roster whose contract is due to expire at the end of this year and there are just three more veteran players who don’t have guaranteed contracts for 2023.
This sort of stability is not just rare for the Sounders, it’s rare in MLS where roster turnover is usually considered just part of doing business in a salary-capped league.
Taken together, it’s obvious the Sounders see that their championship window is wide open.
“We’re really excited about the team we’ve built and that we’ll have them together from Day 1,” Sounders GM and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey recently said. “We think we can succeed on all fronts this year.”
The first of those fronts is Concacaf Champions League, the one major jewel that’s missing from the Sounders’ crown, and a bit of a white whale for Lagerwey, whose Real Salt Lake team nearly won it in 2011.
This will be the third time the Sounders have competed in CCL since Lagerwey joined the team in 2015 and their sixth time overall. The Sounders have never advanced beyond the semifinals and were bounced ignominiously from the Round of 16 in their last trip in 2020, falling in penalties to CD Olimpia despite leading the road leg by two goals and having a late lead in the home leg.
But each of those teams seemed to have rather glaring holes, and in most cases had obviously incomplete rosters. In 2020, for instance, the Sounders entered the season with just 24 players under first-team contracts, had to play both legs without Nicolás Lodeiro and Gustav Svensson, and signed Yeimar Goméz Andrade so late that they weren’t able to get his paperwork finalized in time for the second leg.
While the Sounders are expected to be at quite full-strength when they play Motagua on Feb. 17, they’ll be pretty darn close.
“When you have 27 guys signed, when you have the young guys, when you have the depth that we have, we believe we can compete against Motagua even if we’re not at 100%,” Lagerwey said.
Lagerwey has historically been someone who tends to under-promise and over-deliver, so it’s somewhat jarring to hear him sound quite this bullish on the Sounders’ prospects.
Although high expectations are essentially embedded in the Sounders’ organizational DNA, Schmetzer is sensitive to the idea of not letting his players get ahead of themselves. But even while recognizing that “You can’t pile on too much” pressure, he too has set his sights rather high.
“There is the Champions League loss that I take very personally in 2020,” Schmetzer said. “There are high expectations for this club.
“Champions League is a competition we want to do very well in... I agree with Garth, we do have a good team, a very good team on paper, that gives us the best chance of doing well in Champions League, doing well in the league and ending the year on a high note in another MLS Cup final.”