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How the Sounders added two proven veterans without breaking budget

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A little bit of creative accounting and a lot of goodwill go a long way.

Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

Ever since the Seattle Sounders announced the offseason signings of João Paulo and Yeimar Goméz Andrade, GM Garth Lagerwey has been saying the salary cap was effectively maxed out.

It was a strategic decision, even if it diverged from previous seasons. Rather than holding onto some flexibility to make an impact signing in the summer — a strategy that yielded Nicolas Lodeiro in 2016 and Raúl Ruidíaz in 2018 — the Sounders decided to put their best foot forward in an attempt to win Concacaf Champions League.

Those plans didn’t quite work out, as the Sounders were bounced in the quarterfinals by Olimpia.

The Sounders did, however, have a bit of flexibility when it came to their senior roster. In addition to having two spots open, they also had an international spot. Turns out, that was enough flexibility to sign two MLS veterans with recent MLS Cup pedigree.

The recent signings of Brad Smith and Román Torres were not due to any particular magic on his part, Lagerwey admitted. It was simply a case of finding two players whose circumstances and affinity for Seattle made a return possible.

“This is two guys who wanted to come back and love the club,” Lagerwey said during a conference call with reporters on Friday. “It was nothing I do individually. They made sacrifices to come back. Without their help, these deals don’t get done.”

In Smith’s case, that apparently involved a willingness to backload his contract in a way that his 2020 salary cap hit was minimized. Smith is now under contract through 2022.

To get Torres, the Sounders were willing to trade a conditional first-round SuperDraft pick in order to convince Inter Miami to pick up the bulk of the centerback’s salary. That was only half of the equation, though, as Torres also needed to be comfortable with the idea that he wouldn’t necessarily be a starter while still unsigned beyond this season.

Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer had a long conversation with Torres mainly about expectations and mindset before green-lighting the trade.

“Roman promised me he’d be his normal, joyful self,” Schmetzer said. “That’s what sealed it for me.”

Although Torres had been hoping to remain with the Sounders after helping lead them to the 2019 MLS Cup, he said there were no hard feelings when they only offered to bring him back at a considerable discount.

“When I left I was happy,” Torres said through an interpreter. “If there was anything bad, I wouldn’t be back now.”

The reinforcements could hardly come at a more opportune time. Saturday’s game against the Vancouver Whitecaps will mark the last time for at least a month that the Sounders have anything close to a full-strength roster. Lagerwey said the team is expecting to lose Raúl Ruidíaz (Peru), Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador) and Gustav Svensson (Sweden) for most of October and then potentially again in November. Joevin Jones is also still nursing an ankle injury and could miss at least another game or two.

Even missing those four potential starters, the new signings ensure the Sounders can maintain much of their depth.

“I love the way this roster has been constructed,” Schmetzer said.