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What we learned at Sounders' end-of-season press conference

Craig Waibel promised some "impact" signings, potentially very soon.

Last Updated
5 min read
Corky Trewin / Sounders FC Communications

RENTON – Coming off a season in which they had the league’s best defense but underperformed on offense, it will probably come as little surprise that Seattle Sounders GM Craig Waibel spent a good deal of Wednesday’s end-of-season press conference talking about how he can help bolster the attack.

But Waibel was also clear that he did not feel as though any dramatic overhaul is needed, suggesting that he feels one or two impact players can bring about the kind of change the Sounders need.

“We’re not using this offseason to rebuild, we’re using it to load up and come back for trophies,” Waibel told a group of about two dozen media members who had gathered at the team’s still-under-construction training facility. “This was a year we didn’t win a trophy and one year we didn’t play for one in a long time. That’s not the goal. ... We think we’re getting the ship righted. If we get some of these deals done, we’ll come out flying and trophies will be the expectation.” 

Waibel was joined on the stage by head coach Brian Schmetzer and later by recently re-signed goalkeeper Stefan Frei. Here are the main takeaways from their comments:

Closing in on at least one “impactful” player

It has been widely reported that the Sounders are close to signing Lanús winger Pedro de la Vega, a 22-year-old who would likely be a Young DP. Waibel effectively confirmed those efforts, but also seemed to indicate that the deal was taking a bit longer to push over the line than he'd like. As such, he said there are actually three players who the Sounders are pursuing – two in South America and one in Europe – and that they are happy to sign whichever one comes to terms first.

Sounders ‘finalizing’ young DP deal for Argentine attacker
Pedro de la Vega is a 22-year-old wide midfielder from Lanús.

"It’s matter of which of these players commits to us and convinces us in the end that they’re the right person for us," Waibel said. "We’re in the end-stage discussion with three different players and they can consider that the pressure they need to make their decision.

"Those decisions are going to go away real quickly because we believe we’re an important club, we’re the only MLS team to be qualified for the Club World Cup [in 2025]. We’re going to do our best to win trophies next season, even without adding any of those three."

Waibel said the Sounders were mostly looking at offensive-minded players who were 26 or younger, with the idea that they'd potentially be around for a long time. He also said that the European player is Scandinavian, but no longer playing in his home country.

Planning around Raúl being back

One of the big reasons the Sounders were in the bottom third of scoring was that Raúl Ruidíaz only scored five goals all season. Ruidíaz's goals (.43) and xG (.49) per 90 were effectively in line with his career averages, but he played just about a third of the available minutes this year, leading to a career low in goals scored.

It's tempting to suggest the Sounders should simply cut bait, hand the job to Jordan Morris – who effectively replaced Ruidíaz last year – and use the DP spot on a shiny new signing, but that does not appear to be the plan.

"We have to get him healthy," Schmetzer said. "We have to get him really fit. He’s bought into that. He understood there was competition with Jordan and that’s going to carry into next year. That’ll be an interesting storyline. He’ll be ready. I trust Raúl. He scored a pile of important goals. There’s no reason to say he can’t continue. He can be a valuable member of this team and score more goals."

Arreaga might be back, too

Having a backup centerback making about $750,000 is not exactly an ideal use of limited resources. Viewed through a different lens, having someone like Xavier Arreaga available off the bench is quite a luxury that Waibel seems to think the Sounders can afford.

So while Waibel is open to moving Arreaga, he made clear that he's not looking to dump him, either.

"He’s a desirable centerback, he’s a desirable centerback for us," Waibel said. "There have been a couple of teams that reached out but under the wrong pretense. They’ve reached out thinking we don’t want him. If someone wants him, they’re going to have to come with a real offer. We’re really happy with him and know he can win championships in this league. I’m not going to move him anywhere that’s not going to guarantee that effort back into him."

Frei is ready to run it back

One player who is definitely part of the team's foundation is goalkeeper Stefan Frei. Fresh off signing a two-year extension, Frei has already won a Supporters' Shield, a U.S. Open Cup, two MLS Cups, four Western Conference trophies and a CCL trophy in his first 10 seasons in Seattle, but still thinks there's unfulfilled potential.

"When the Sounders gave me a chance, they had to believe in me more than I did," he said. "I’m forever in their debt. I also saw all the amazing things that come with being a player in Seattle. It’s a beautiful place, you’re surrounded by amazing nature. The fans are incredible. And there’s a really high standard where you’re trying to win trophies every year. Now we have an amazing facility too.

"I don’t think I’d have to sell a new guy on why they should be here. If you don’t want to be here, then go somewhere else. This is a special place to be. Inside the locker room, too – we try to create an environment where everyone’s comfortable and gets along and no one is excluded. Everyone should want to be there."

Preseason timeline

The Sounders will report to training camp on Jan. 12 and spend the first week or so at Starfire, as Longacres is not expected to be fully finished by that time. After going through physicals, fitness testing and a few days of basic training, they'll spend about three weeks in Marbella, Spain at the same facility they traveled to in last preseason. Not only did the Sounders like the facilities, but they also appreciated that there were a host of European teams there they could scrimmage against.

The Sounders will then return home and are scheduled to begin training at Longacres around Feb. 13, where they'll remain until the season begins. The 2024 schedule is due to be released next week, and the expectation is that the season will begin some time around Feb. 23.