The Seattle Sounders have re-signed captain Nicolas Lodeiro through 2023. The start of training camp might be just six weeks away, but head coach Brian Schmetzer remains without a contract. The Sounders are ready to help Jordan Morris get to Europe, if that’s what he wants. Joao Paulo’s loan is up, but both sides would like to keep the relationship going. And a youth movement is likely afoot in the Emerald City, by necessity if not choice.
Those were key takeaways from the Sounders’ annual year-in-review press conference on Wednesday, featuring both Schmetzer and Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders general manager and president of soccer.
There’s a lot going on for a club trying to get over a 3-0 drubbing by the Columbus Crew in Saturday night’s MLS Cup final.
“That loss stings,” said Schmetzer onWednesday. “It’s really frustrating for me. It’s something that I’m going to try and get past, because I still believe that this club had a successful year. But it makes it more challenging, just by the way our final game played out.”
Here’s a rundown of noteworthy topics from Wednesday’s press conference.
“Brian and I are aligned,” said Lagerwey. “We want to bring Brian and his staff back. We’ve said that for months.”
That’s well and good, but supporters hoping for signs that at this point a new contract is matter of mere paperwork will be disappointed. Schmetzer, a popular Seattle native, might sign a new deal at any moment. But it didn’t seem a given on Wednesday, in either tone or words. Neither Schmetzer nor Lagerwey was exactly expansive, and both used variations of “hopeful,” regarding a resolution. Hopeful is, notably, not the same thing as confident.
“I know that Garth and my representatives have been talking about it,” said Schmetzer, “so I’m hopeful that we can get something done. I think it is something that both sides are willing to try and push to get it done. It is getting a little late in the year, but I think everybody’s got the same goals in mind to try and push it over the finish line.”
“We’re working on it,” said Lagerwey. “Hopefully we’ll get there.”
Schmetzer did tell local station KJR Radio on Tuesday that if he were “a betting man,” he would think a deal would get done.
The Sounders are a deep-pocketed team, by MLS standards. But after stockpiling pedigreed veterans to fuel a five-year run at titles, even Lagerwey has used up all his bookkeeping tricks: the Sounders are out of cap space.
Thanks to COVID, that cap isn’t budging.
“The cap is flat,” said Lagerwey. “That means effectively we have less money to spend than we did before.”
The hits are coming already. Kelvin Leerdam, Gustav Svensson, and Joevin Jones are all listed as available in Thursday’s re-entry draft. Those are financial moves, not soccer moves.
“We’ve been talking about it for the better part of 12 to 18 months: We are at the mature part of our cycle,” said Lagerwey. “We hit the salary cap wall at the end of this season. We knew that was coming, and that’s part of what contributes to decisions around Joevin and Kelvin and Gustav, specifically. And those guys are great players, man.”
Those hits will keep coming this winter.
“The pool of resources is honestly close to non-existent,” said Lagerwey. “We had to cut to a level to get even. So we’re about even. We’ve got a little bit of room, I don’t want to act like there’s nothing we can do. But there is no plan right now to have an impact addition in the January window from outside the league.”
There’s good news, though — at least if you’ve been wanting the Sounders to join the league-wide “play-your-kids” movement. Kids are where teams turn when they can’t spend money.
“There will be fewer experienced players on the Sounders next year as compared to this year,” Lagerwey acknowledged.
Shandon Hopeau. Ethan Dobbelaere. Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez. Josh Atencio. Danny Lleyva. Teenagers every one, these are the names the Sounders expect to see competing for minutes in 2021.
“Can they make meaningful contributions now?” asked Lagerwey. “Where instead of going out and signing an experienced pro from Europe, or South America, you are getting increased competition from those kids as part of the solution? That helps us through this patch where we have a ton of money tied up in fewer and fewer players as a result of five years of pretty much unmitigated success. Where, correctly, those good players have performed well, and they’ve hit their bonuses, and they’ve been paid more money in accordance with their performance.”
All that said, it’s not entirely out of the questions that Jones or Leerdam or Svensson returns later in the offseason for less money.
“If a player wants to entertain a conversation,” said Schmetzer, “then Garth is always willing to listen.”
Paulo’s season-long loan from Brazilian side Botafogo has expired, but the Sounders are working to exercise a purchase option that would keep the versatile midfielder in Seattle, most likely as a designated player once again.
Capable of serving as a defensive, box-to-box, or pure playmaking midfielder, Paulo scored two goals and delivered five assists in over 1500 minutes last season. He paired especially well with Lodeiro, freeing the Sounders’ captain to focus his considerable energies more efficiently.
“Nothing firm to report there,” said Lagerwey, “but [I] would say that in my experience when the player wants to stay and the team wants to get it done, I’m at least cautiously optimistic that we’ll get a positive outcome there in the end.”
The 26-year-old hometown kid and converted winger has never wavered about whether picking the Sounders over Werder Bremen was the right choice coming out of Stanford in 2016. Now an elite winger at the MLS level — he finished fifth in MVP voting this year — Morris has for the first time begun freely talking about testing himself in Europe. It’s a move the Sounders are willing to assist, according to Lagerwey.
“We’ll work with him on it,” said Lagerwey. “Coach and I talked to Jordan yesterday or the day before. The way we handle this is, we’re just pretty open and transparent. We said, ‘Jordan, what do you want to do?’ We’re happy to work [with him], and we want happy players, and we want players that are fulfilled and ambitious and all that.”
That said, if a foreign suitor is prone to reading between the lines, it sure sounds like the Sounders are letting it be known just how much they value Morris’ services.
“Jordan is a unique asset to our club,” Lagerwey said. “His value to us, in our community, because of what a good person he is, and how active he is, is special, and probably not replicable. Jordan is probably worth more to us here than a comparable player if there even is such a thing. He’s got a lot of value to us. But that said, we will certainly support him in whatever he wants to do, whatever direction he wants to take, as we always have. This is a kid that we’ve known for a long, long time. Well before he signed with the Sounders. We have a good relationship with him, with his family, and we’ll sit down to talk it through.”
The pandemic may have at least ensured that Morris hasn’t played his last match for the Sounders, as the January transfer window is expected to be sluggish: Everyone is broke.
“More clubs will be spending more money in the summer,” said Lagerwey, “if things go as we expect them to go.”
Signed through 2022, the Peruvian designated player will be leading the Sounders’ attack for the foreseeable future. While there’s no rush to extend a player under contract for another two seasons, Lagerwey made clear on Wednesday that the plan is for Ruidiaz to be around for a long, long time.
“We couldn’t possibly be more happy with a player than we are with Raul,” Lagerwey said.