During the Seattle Sounders’ press conference introducing Craig Waibel as the new General Manager & Chief Soccer Officer, Waibel was posed a question: with the potential to add a TAM player or two to the roster, and work already underway to that end, could the Sounders be working on adding any players who could be playing in the World Cup Round of 16?
“Currently? Not yet.” There’s a reading of this answer that interprets Waibel’s meaning to be that Seattle is looking at a player or players who hadn’t yet secured qualification, or that maybe they have but their playing time isn’t guaranteed. At various points Waibel discussed needing to adapt to a changing league with ever-rising standards, as well as being able to attract higher-caliber players and scouting and recruiting players in places the team never has before.
With that information though, wouldn’t it be irresponsible to not start thinking about what kinds of players we could be looking at? For starters, who is playing in the Round of 16?
Round of 16 Teams
|Qualified||Likely to Qualify|
|Qualified||Likely to Qualify|
There are some pretty good players on those teams. Maybe the easiest answer here could be that they’re trying to sign Aaron Long, a free agent MLS centerback who happens to be in Qatar with the USMNT. That’s not very fun, though.
The more likely answer, though, is that Waibel was talking about the profile of players they’re looking at these days and going forward. He added a bit more context later in his answer, saying, “When you ask me that question in ’26, if we’re pursuing players in the Round of 16, the answer’s, ‘yes, multiple’ Not just maybe one.”
To add more fuel to the mental fire for our offseason entertainment, Waibel also mentioned scouting and pursuing players from places the team has never scouted before. That could mean a number of things, but for reference here is a helpful visual aid. Below is a map showing the nations that have been represented on the Sounders roster since joining MLS (admittedly there might be one or two missing where players have dual citizenship).
There are some notable absences, when you look at where top talent in world football comes from, on that map. Ghana and Italy are both nations that have never been represented on a Sounders roster, and the team’s also never signed a player from those leagues. The track record for players from both countries in MLS are pretty good, too, even if the list of Italian players in the league’s history is pretty short. Chile, Japan, Poland, Portugal and Venezuela are also without a Sounder. The fortunes of these national teams are certainly not all the same at the moment, but they either have solid histories of players performing well in MLS or have leagues that are often scouted by bigger foreign leagues.
We’ve also got places where the Sounders have had a player of that nationality, but realistically didn’t scout in that country because the players were brought in from elsewhere. Two standouts in this category are France and Scotland, countries with good leagues that MLS can now reasonably compete with for up-and-coming talent. Waibel also noted specifically that the league is “on the verge of bringing Bundesliga players into [MLS].” That’s a league the Sounders have signed players from before, but not quite like this.
We keep hearing there’s probably a signing or two coming, and while we’ve seen some of Waibel’s handiwork in Seattle already, those will be the first of the Waibel Era. Feel free to speculate below.