As the Sounders open training camp for the 2020 season Tuesday, the biggest player isn’t on the field.
It’s in MLS boardrooms.
The league and the MLS Players Association have yet to ratify a new collective-bargaining agreement. The players published on the MLSPA website an outline of their goals to improve the current CBA that expires at the end of this month.
With the Sounders at the previous salary cap after signing players such as defender Xavier Arreaga and midfielders Joevin Jones and Emmanuel Cecchini last year, the club is keeping an eye on CBA negotiations before making big moves to fill holes on its roster.
“The most important thing for us is to not jeopardize any of the good players we have,” said Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders general manager and president of soccer, during a conference call last week. “We have a very good foundation and we do not want to be in a position where we have to offload some of the guys that helped us win an MLS Cup or MLS Cups. So, we are going to be conservative until that agreement is reached.”
The Sounders have 21 players signed to first-team contracts as camp begins. Forward Jordan Morris and midfielder Cristian Roldan aren’t expected to report until February — the U.S. men’s national team members were called up to participate in that camp and scrimmages in Florida and California.
With various reports claiming the new CBA could restrict Targeted Allocation Money from the league and limit Designated Player contracts, like the Los Angeles Galaxy signing striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic to an MLS-record $7.2 million wage last year, the Rave Green won’t open camp with immediate replacements for winger Victor Rodriguez and defensive players Brad Smith, Roman Torres and Kim Kee-hee.
Seattle has made an offer to re-sign Kim, and Lagerwey said negotiations are ongoing. The oft-injured Rodriguez returned to his native Spain, while Smith’s loan from AFC Bournemouth expired in December. Torres opted to sign with Inter Miami CF, a 2020 MLS expansion team.
“(Talks) obviously have gone on a long time with Kim, so we’re assuming he has other options,” Lagerwey said.
From Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer’s view, there’s enough talent for the club to defend the MLS Cup it won in November. The trick is not being complacent.
Schmetzer took brief breaks since winning the title Nov. 10. He went on a scouting trip to Argentina in December and has worked with his staff — technical and assistants — in figuring ways to keep the Sounders atop MLS.
The Sounders returned John Hutchinson to the support staff to also help in that goal. The former S2 assistant left in 2017 for a similar position with Australia’s Western United FC. Although Hutchinson’s exact title with the Sounders hasn’t been formulated, his role will be on-field development of the young first-team players.
Schmetzer doesn’t want any talent slipping through the cracks — particularly since many will be needed to fill out another season full of international call-ups.
The Sounders’ packed schedule opens with the CONCACAF Champions League’s two-legged series against Honduran side CD Olimpia in February. The MLS opener is March 1 against the Chicago Fire at CenturyLink Field.
“Starting the league off on a good note last year erased that stigma of the slow starts,” Schmetzer said of opening MLS play on a franchise-best six-game unbeaten streak. The Sounders were a combined 2-6-4 to open the season the previous two years under Schmetzer.
“Having a couple of young, hungry guys to start preseason camp is always beneficial” Schmetzer continued. “We have a lot of games coming up so there will be minutes for some younger guys. It’s just necessity.”
And possibly a bigger necessity with Sounders roster transactions stalled while the CBA is ironed out.
“I would hope that we get some of the holes buttoned up,” Schmetzer said. “But at the same time for us as coaches, we’ll take the group that we have and get them ready for a very, very important start of preseason.”