The offseason has gotten off to a frustratingly slow start and GM Garth Lagerwey seems to be doing his best to lower expectations. But sooner or later the Seattle Sounders have to start making some moves as they’ve only got 19 players under contract, and just one of them is primarily a centerback. They clearly HAVE to make some moves before preseason opens on Jan. 11.
Let’s fire up the roundtable!
Jeremiah Oshan: What do think the Sounders No. 1 offseason priority should be?
Tim Foss: I don’t feel great about their primarily wide midfield options not named Jordan Morris, but CB has to be the top priority. They need to figure out what’s going to happen with Kim Kee-hee, and even if he stays they probably need another starting-caliber CB.
Mark Kastner: I think they have a decision to make. The team clearly thinks that Xavier Arreaga is the future at the centerback position, but who is Arreaga’s partner? If they think Gustav Svensson is the partner for 2020, then they need to sign a starting caliber No. 6. If they think Gustav is the 6, then they need to sign another starting CB. We saw towards the end of last season that a Kim Kee-hee partnership with Arreaga wasn’t the best, so we can’t go into next season with Kim being the starter. I hope we re-sign Kim, but as a depth piece.
Jeremiah: I’m going to agree that centerback has to be the top priority almost by default. I suppose it’s possible they see Svensson as a potential possibility there, but there’s no way they are looking at him as the default starter. There has to be a plan to bring in someone else. I’d be perfectly fine with Kim being that player, even as a starter. I think he and Arreaga looked better as they grew more accustomed to one another and could form a very good partnership and will offer the LAFC playoff game as Exhibit A.
Mark: I’m presenting Arreaga’s two red cards (four yellows) down the stretch of the regular season as Exhibit B.
Jeremiah: I don’t think you believe he’s nearly as reckless as those very soft yellows suggest.
Mark: No no. I’m just suggesting that the partnership has the potential to be volatile. That’s not that crazy of a suggestion
Tim: I think that they improved with time, and could see them continuing to improve, but I definitely think that they need a preferred partner that is going to compliment Arreaga and fill in some of the weak areas of his game in the long run. He and Kim can work together, but it’s not anywhere near an ideal situation.
Jeremiah: OK, so let’s assume Kim is back. How much does that change the calculus as to your top priority?
Mark: It doesn’t change mine. I’m assuming Kim is back at a lower salary hit than last season. We’re still short a Roman Torres-sized hole at CB.
Tim: I think CB is still my top priority, but a Victor Rodriguez replacement is a much closer second. And part of that is that they’re going to be losing a lot of guys in the summer again, and they need to be prepared for that by the beginning of the season. They can’t paper over the cracks with a signing come the summer tournaments (ed. note: Both Euro 2020 and Copa America will take players away for all of June and some of July) unless they do it now, and they’ll almost certainly be without Arreaga and Svensson, among others.
Jeremiah: Ruidiaz and Lodeiro are very likely gone too!
Tim: Right, I was more trying to point to the need to sign a CB sooner than later.
Jeremiah: At the very least, I think it turns the attacking mid into priority 1B for me. That strikes me as a huge hole, and while I think there’s a world where Cristian Roldan can effectively fill it in the short term, the team absolutely needs to bring in a player who is capable of pushing for starting minutes in the attacking band.
Mark: The summer of 2020 has the potential to be so much worse than the summer of 2019. I hope the team is targeting good TAM players that aren’t in their national team picture for their countries.
Tim Foss: I think being in a position where Roldan can play in an attacking position is good and fine, but being in a position where he has to is actually a disaster.
Mark: I like Roldan at RW. A lot. But I’m probably alone in that so I won’t waste everyone’s time.
Jeremiah: The thing that I think the Sounders may end up missing most about Rodriguez is that he was able to play all three attacking midfield positions pretty well.
Mark: It is really weird that we’re at a place where we’re saying that we will miss Victor Rodriguez, but hey.
Jeremiah: I suspect I was in the minority on this, but I would have been happy to bring him back on a TAM-level contract even if I thought we’d only get 15-20 games out of him.
Tim: I would have been happy to have 15-20 games of Rodriguez for TAM money in 2020, for sure.
Jeremiah: I’d also feel a whole lot better about how the roster currently looks heading into CCL.
Mark: CCL makes things tricky, but I still think they need to move on from Victor.
Tim: Circling back to Roldan briefly, I think he’s legitimately one of the top 8s in the league. I don’t think that’s the case for him as a RW. I think you can reasonably expect to find a better option with the money at that spot.
Jeremiah: One thing that I think the Sounders still need to determine about Roldan is whether or not they see his longterm position as an 8 or a 6 and what kind of partner they think they need for him, regardless of where he’s playing this year. Lagerwey mentioned the possibility that they still might be targeting a 6 with a DP spot. Where does signing a 6 fall in terms of your offseason priorities?
Mark: I would think that sits around third or fourth on the list, at least this winter. There’s at least two starting spots on the field that need to be filled first. Plus, there’s still Gustav there.
Tim: I think that’s a pretty low priority, especially with Svensson and Delem still in the squad. That’s probably a good spot to target in the summer, hopefully getting a guy that they know can play the 6 rather than getting another Emmanuel Cecchini who might be able to play it. I’d probably put it around four, after a CB, a winger, and another RB option.
Jeremiah: Anyone want to make a prediction about Cecchini? Has he played his last game for the Sounders?
Mark: I think he has. This team isn’t afraid to cut their losses when something doesn’t work out.
Tim: Unfortunately, yeah. I was really high on him, I watched every bit of his highlights that I could find and really liked the idea of him in the team, but the team doesn’t see him as a 6, and I don’t think they want him competing with Roldan and Danny Leyva for the 8.
Jeremiah: Agreed all around. It struck me as a high-upside gamble that didn’t pay off.
Mark: I believe there’s audio recordings of me from last summer being really jazzed about signing him, but yeah, he just didn’t work out.
Jeremiah: Tim mentioned right back as what I suspect we all agree is the other high-priority signing this offseason. I really liked Saad Abdul-Salaam. What are the chances the Sounders actually upgrade their depth at RB or is this a simple cost-saving move?
Mark: I think they need someone younger, like 22-25, to push Kelvin Leerdam. The team stated last year that they felt they had three starting quality LBs. I’d like to see them say they have two starting quality RBs going into next season.
Tim: That’s where I am on the RB position. With Torres, Marshall, and Smith off the roster that’s a lot of cap space and TAM that could be spread out a bit more, and I think they’d be smart to use some of it to grab a second legitimately starting quality RB.
Jeremiah: Anyone out there, maybe within MLS, that strikes your fancy?
Mark: Looks like Nick Lima has sorta fallen out of favor in San Jose with Tommy Thompson taking the RB spot there.
Jeremiah: That would definitely feel like an upgrade in terms of depth.
Tim: If he’s on the trading block, that’s a great option.
Mark: Anyone from the Defiance the Sounders should consider signing to fill out the roster?
Tim: I think that the one guy that I’d really like or expect to see them sign to a first team deal is Shandon Hopeau. His numbers don’t exactly pop, but he was a strong, steady presence all season, and his production improved as the team as a whole improved down the stretch. The fact that they let Denso Ulysse walk after the season is an example of what they see in Antonee Burke-Gilroy at right back, but I don’t think he’s quite ready for MLS at this point.
I’d kind of like to see Danny Robles get a look. He plays in the middle of the field, and is an aggressive and incisive passer of the ball. I don’t know that he’s at an MLS level just yet, but he could be an interesting piece when Lodeiro isn’t available, or if they want to try moving Lodeiro back a line when defensive bite isn’t as necessary. I guess this is where I’d be expected to mention Sam Rogers, as well. He’s an interesting player, a CB in more of the Arreaga or Kee-hee mold - his main strength is in his ability on the ball, he’s got some mobility and can be aggressive in pursuit of attacking players. When he’s feeling confident and on a good roll, he can be a real handful for opposing forwards. The problem is that he’s had trouble staying on the field, and as a result hasn’t been able to string together as many good runs as you’d like. He’d also be a bad partner for either of Kee-hee or Arreaga, but if he can put together a good first half of the season with Tacoma, he could be an option to fill in when either or both are gone in the Summer, or to give them a break down the stretch. I probably wouldn’t bet on it, though.