TUKWILA — The Sounders snagged plenty of new fans during their run to the club’s second MLS Cup last November. Joao Paulo was one of them, and he went from watching them to playing for them.
The Brazilian midfielder was acquired via loan from his country’s Botafogo of the Brasileiro Serie A league. Joao Paulo, 28, is hopeful his versatility and skill in passing and defending can be used to get the one thing he doesn’t possess — a championship.
“I followed some of the matches last season; my impression is that it’s a team well organized with very good professionals,” Joao Paulo said of the Rave Green as translated from Portuguese. His signing was announced Friday, and he participated in his first training Saturday at Starfire Sports but still needs his P-1 Visa and International Transfer Certificate.
“I’ve already had the chance to confirm that once I got here. Now, I hope I can show all of my soccer and help my teammates,” he continued.
Joao Paulo joins Raul Ruidiaz (Peru) and Nico Lodeiro (Uruguay) as the Sounders’ designated players. The latter also played for Botafogo (2012-2014), which added to Joao Paulo’s interest in the Sounders.
The addition strengthens the Sounders’ hopes of becoming the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League title. Joao Paulo helped Botafogo reach the 2017 quarterfinals of Copa Libertadores, which is the top competition in South America.
“This tournament is very similar,” Joao Paulo said. “It’s a tough tournament. … I see everyone here has great expectations and is preparing for this big challenge.”
Joao Paulo’s jersey is No. 6, a nod to his first number when he started playing as a kid. But where he’ll play on the field could vary. With Botafogo, Joao Paulo, who is signed through 2020 with an option for another year, was the team captain who played three different spots in the midfield. He’s made 328 appearances across all competitions in Brazil and scored 20 goals.
“The real test will be when we get him out on the field and we have our full group,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “But he looks good. … I’m going to put him in a spot where I know he can play. We’ll see how he fits with Gustav (Svensson), how he fits with Cristian (Roldan).”
Joao Paulo’s first game action will be Wednesday in a closed-door scrimmage against Sacramento Republic FC at CenturyLink Field. Seattle’s starting lineup should also feature forward Jordan Morris and Roldan, who were training with the U.S. men’s national team. They made their first appearance with the Sounders Saturday since winning the MLS title.
The Sounders leave Thursday for Mexico City where they’ll complete their preseason training.
The Sounders open Champions League play with a two-legged series against CD Olimpia. The Round of 16 matchup is Feb. 20 in Honduras and Feb. 27 at CenturyLink Field.
“We really are motivated to go for it for Champions League, we’ve been saying that,” said Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders’ general manager and president of soccer. “To have a full DP, all three of them now from Day 1 for the season, that’s a statement of intent on our part. We mean what we say.”
Lagerwey intimated another key signing could be announced this week in Colombian center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade. He played the past season for Union de Santa Fe in Argentina, which reported via social media in January the 6-foot-2 defender is headed to Seattle.
“These are the defending champs out there,” Lagerwey said of the Sounders. “This is not a team that needs to get blown up and remade and needs a new alpha dog. What they need is a guy who’s going to play with Lodeiro and Ruidiaz and Svensson and Roldan and Morris and the rest of the gang. And we believe (Joao Paulo) is that player.”