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How Sounders roster might look in 2021

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A look at the current roster and how it might change.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

By the standards of the past five seasons, this year’s end-of-season roster announcement was actually pretty tame. The Seattle Sounders have averaged about 12 departures per offseason and right now it looks like that number will be closer to nine. Just one player who started any of the four playoff games and just two others who had significant roles this year are expected to be among those departures.

While GM Garth Lagerwey has tamped down expectations of significant winter signings, there are some obvious holes the Sounders will need to fill. Here’s a breakdown of how their roster currently stands.

Forward

Currently signed: Raul Ruidiaz, Will Bruin, Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez

How it looks now: This is probably the position where the Sounders are most set, especially if they’re sticking to the 4-2-3-1 formation they’ve played almost exclusively under Brian Schmetzer. Chances are the Sounders aren’t going to be looking for anymore forwards unless something changes.

Raúl Ruidíaz is the unquestioned starter and Will Bruin is his primary backup. Jordan Morris is also a perfectly capable No. 9 if the need arises. The wild card is Ocampo-Chavez, who has been playing more on the wing since turning pro.

How it might look in 2021: If the Sounders do bring in another forward, 19-year-old Puerto Rico international Alec Diaz is coming off his best professional season and probably warrants a long look in the preseason. He had 6 goals and 2 assists in less than 900 minutes with the Defiance last season, while showing improved hold-up play and rebounding from a disappointing 2019.

Attacking midfield

Currently signed: Jordan Morris, Nicolás Lodeiro, Shandon Hopeau, Ethan Dobbelaere

How it looks now: With Lodeiro re-signed that clears up one potential question mark, but after that this position is hard to assess. While there are no specific rumors tying Morris to a move abroad, the chatter seems to be picking up and the Sounders aren’t inclined to stand in his way, even if he’s a “unique asset to our club” in the words of Lagerwey. Assuming he stays, though, the left attacking midfield spot is in as good of hands as any in the league.

The right midfield spot is a bit more of an unknown. Joevin Jones had effectively settled in as the starter there, but is now likely gone. It’s possible that the Sounders decide to try Cristian Roldan there again, but that doesn’t seem like the long-term preference.

The only other option from the current roster is hoping one of Hopeau, Dobbelaere or Ocampo-Chavez break out. Hopeau is probably the closest to MLS ready and has shown some promise in limited action. Dobbelaere looked okay in his one start and seems to have some decent upside. Ocampo-Chavez was caught between teams this year and only ended up playing about 650 minutes, all with the Defiance. He flashed some serious potential in 2019 and is still just 18, but I doubt the Sounders are expecting him to be a major first-team contributor in 2021.

How it might look in 2021: I don’t think the Sounders are going to make any long-term commitments over the winter, but I could see them bringing in a veteran MLS player to hold down the spot at least for next year. Diego Fagundez is an interesting option, as he’s still just 25, only a couple years removed from a 9-goal, 10-assist season and is a free agent who likely made less than $250,000 last year (based on his 2019 salary). He also can play across the attacking band of midfield.

Defensive midfield

Currently signed: Cristian Roldan, Jordy Delem, Danny Leyva

How it looks now: As of right now, it looks like João Paulo is going to be back, but a deal is not yet complete. Assuming he does return, he and Cristian Roldan form one of the most dynamic defensive midfields in the league.

Even with the expected loss of Gustav Svensson, the Sounders should still be reasonably deep here, too. Delem is a limited but perfectly capable player who can do a job at the end of games or fill in when needed. They’ve also got Leyva and Josh Atencio, two young players with significant upside. Leyva had a setback this year due to a series of injuries, but assuming he’s healthy remains on track to be a regular contributor well before he’s 20 years old. Atencio has moved back and forth between the defensive midfield and centerback, but looks to be a solid pro at either spot.

How it might look in 2021: There’s a chance the Sounders will bring in a veteran from somewhere in MLS — former Sounders Andy Rose and Micheal Azira are both free agents, for instance — but the most likely addition is probably Academy product Reed Baker-Whiting. The 15-year-old just signed with Defiance this summer, trained with the Sounders after the USL season and even traveled with the team to Columbus for MLS Cup.

Fullback

Currently signed: Nouhou, Brad Smith, Alex Roldan

How it looks now: Left back is about as rock-solid as it gets. Nouhou started there most of the year and Smith will surely challenge him next year. Right back is considerably less settled. Alex Roldan took over the starting spot during the playoffs, but didn’t exactly look like a championship-caliber player in his last few performances. He’s still learning the position, though, and has some obvious upside. But that’s it from the current roster and the Defiance don’t have anyone who looks ready to challenge for a starting job, either.

How it might look in 2021: It doesn’t seem particularly likely, but there’s still a chance Kelvin Leerdam comes back. If not him, the Sounders probably need to go outside the organization. Alex Villanueva and Sota Kitahara are the only two players with fullback experience currently signed by the Defiance, and they’re both still basically learning the position. Villanueva is 18 and had been mostly a midfielder until last year, while Kitahara is a 17-year-old who only started dabbling at right back this year. The Sounders almost have to sign an MLS veteran to compete with Roldan. Kelyn Rowe, a Federal Way native, has some experience at fullback (13 starts as a left back and 2 as a right back) and could be an interesting option if the price was right. There are no shortage of safer — albeit lower upside — options freely available.

Centerback

Currently signed: Xavier Arreaga, Yeimar Gomez Andrade, Shane O’Neill, Josh Atencio

How it looks now: In Yeimar, the Sounders have one of the best centerbacks in the league. In Arreaga, they have arguably the best passing centerback. In O’Neill, they have a perfectly fine third center back who was good enough to start all four playoff games this year. They’ve also got at least one prospect in Atencio.

How it might look in 2021: It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring in another veteran, maybe someone from within MLS, but considering how thin they were at this spot a year ago at this time, they probably feel pretty good.

Goalkeeper

Currently signed: Stefan Frei, Trey Muse

How it looks: Frei is coming off another solid year and sounds like he might want to play forever. The bad news is that they don’t have anyone else with MLS experience after letting Stefan Cleveland go. Muse is still here but he didn’t play a single minute anywhere after the onset of the pandemic, which means it will probably be at least a year for him between competitive appearances. Suffice it to say, he’s probably not someone the Sounders should be relying upon at the first team level next year.

How it might look in 2021: I would be willing to almost guarantee the Sounders sign an MLS veteran to back up Frei. Bryan Meredith, who they didn’t want to lose last year, is once again available.