TUKWILA — The Sounders have set so many records for MLS, it was surprising for the club to not be part of one of the most lucrative achievements.
League commissioner Don Garber bragged again Wednesday during the MLS All-Star Game telecast about the summer transfer window being the league’s most active and profitable with an estimated $150 million made in exporting players. But Seattle didn’t make any moves for the first time in franchise history.
Predictable considering the organization applauded itself last winter for only having one player — midfielder Jimmy Medranda — not signed through the 2023 season. The accounting wizardry was in effort to win the CONCACAF Champions League trophy in addition to another MLS Cup, and the first part of the goal was accomplished.
Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders general manager and president of soccer, said Thursday his staff was actively trying to find a starting-caliber defensive midfielder or right winger due to injuries to Joao Paulo (ACL) and Obed Vargas (back), the latter not medically cleared to even jog. But the offers were short-term and way below market value because the club is unwilling to sacrifice a current player to stay within the MLS salary cap.
“That’s a really bad message,” Lagerwey said of breaking up the roster that won the CCL title in May. “We believe in them and we should believe in them because this was the best team on the continent three months ago. … It was the most tricky window we’ve ever had in terms of trying to thread a needle.
“Ultimately it was a little frustrating from a front-office perspective. Not surprisingly frustrating, but what we were doing was very difficult and there wasn’t a lot of ways to succeed.”
Lagerwey pivoted to the recent success of the Sounders academy players and Tacoma Defiance being first in MLS Next Pro’s Western Conference standings as signs there’s still talent within the club to pull from if needed. The Sounders recently sold two international spots for a combined $225,000 in 2023 General Allocation Money (GAM) that also could offset a signing.
MLS clubs must submit their final 30-player roster by Sept. 2.
“Our belief is that we’re going to take a shot at this thing and we’re going to contend for MLS Cup,” Lagerwey said.
Addressing the rumors
Talk of Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez joining the Sounders was just that — talk. Lagerwey said nothing materialized to the point where he was in contact with Suarez’s camp. Reports have Suarez wanting $12 million per year.
“I would’ve been pretty surprised if he accepted what we offered,” Lagerwey said.
Lagerwey also didn’t have any serious conversations about loaning any of the Sounders players out. Cameroonian defender Nouhou was pegged as a possibility after his performances with his national team and Seattle this year.
Nouhou, Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador) and U.S. internationals Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan are vying for spots on their respective country’s FIFA World Cup Qatar rosters this fall. A good showing could draw interest in January.
“What you’re seeing is far less a reflection of our guys and far more a reflection of the toll that COVID has taken on the soccer ecosystem,” Lagerwey said of the ongoing pandemic. “The top 15 or so clubs in the world, you’re still reading the headlines and they’re still doing fine. They have global marketing deals and they’re buying players.
“If you look at the middle class, the next tier where MLS players are being sold into more frequently, those teams have not recovered yet. They don’t have the funds that they had three years ago. The market is still slow, that’s what we’re dealing with.”
In terms of his own rumored departure for a similar position with Atlanta United, Lagerwey kept the focus on the upcoming general manager vote. The Sounders FC Alliance members are the only fans who have the power to determine the fate of an MLS GM, should 40% of the base participate.
The vote occurs every four years, Lagerwey retaining his position in 2018, although it wasn’t valid because only 37.2% of eligible voters participated.
“You’re going to have speculation about my position,” Lagerwey said. “We’ve done well on all aspects of the organization and hopefully that’s enough to be retained in the vote that’s coming up.”
Club World Cup dates?
While MLS is winding down, other leagues across the globe are starting their 2022-23 slate, meaning FIFA should be setting the Club World Cup competition format and dates soon. The governing body not doing so has created uncertainty about the event.
By winning the CCL title, the Sounders qualified along with Real Madrid (Europe) and Wydad AC (Africa). The OFC Champions League is set to crown their winner next week. The Copa Libertadores (South America) and Chinese Super League are set for this fall, but Asia’s AFC Champions League won’t know its winner until February 2023 — when the Club World Cup typically takes place.
The Sounders have no insight into the scheduling process.
“I have every belief that it’s going to happen in February, it’s going to be the same format as it was before with seven teams,” Lagerwey said. “I have no information that leads me to believe it’s going to be radically different. But I have nothing in writing that says it’s here, it’s done.”