Midfielder Joao Paulo is a fixture for the Sounders, and he’ll be back for the team in 2021 and beyond. The club announced Thursday it exercised the option to buy his rights through the 2023 season.
The Brazilian was acquired via loan from his country’s Botafogo club as a Designated Player in January of last year. He retains the role alongside Nico Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz as the maximum allotted designated players for the Sounders as determined by Major League Soccer rules.
Joao Paulo, 29, had a solid inaugural MLS season as a new look to the defensive strategy who provided skill in transitioning to the offensive attack. He scored two goals and had five assists in 19 matches, starting 17.
“I am pleased to bring a player of Joao Paulo’s caliber back to Seattle after an impressive first season,” Garth Lagerwey, the club’s general manager and president of soccer, said in a news release. “He’s a player who brings a lot of positive things to our squad, on and off the field. We feel confident that JP, Nico Lodeiro and Raul Ruidíaz filling our designated player slots puts us in a good position to win in 2021.”
The Sounders didn’t offer details about the completed transfer. Reports in Brazilian publications earlier this month estimate the Sounders are paying a fee between $1 million and $1.12 million.
Joao Paulo is one of the splashy signings that was spearheaded by former sporting director Chris Henderson. The former was also deeply interested in playing in Seattle because of his respect for Lodeiro’s game. The pair, Cristian Roldan and Gustav Svensson worked well together to help the Sounders advance in December to a fourth MLS Cup final in the club’s past five seasons.
Henderson left Seattle earlier this month to take a similar role with Inter Miami CF in the league’s Eastern Conference. He’ll formally be introduced to media and fans Friday.
“Joao Paulo is a skilled, composed player who was integral to our success last season,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said in a news release. “I’m pleased to have him back on the pitch with us in 2021 and look forward to what he can help us accomplish.”
Joao Paulo played 10 seasons in his native Brazil, including eight in Brasileiro Serie A, the country’s top-flight. The last three were with Botafogo, where Joao Paulo made 36 league appearances in 2019, scoring three goals.
The star midfielder began his career with Internacional in 2010, where he spent three seasons before going out on loan to Atletico Goianiense (2013), Goias (2014) and Santa Cruz (2015-2016). Joao Paulo has appeared in 17 Copa Libertadores matches, including 13 in Botafogo’s run to the quarterfinals in 2017.
MLS has yet to announce a report date for training camp or a schedule for the 2021 season, only stating it wants to kick off in March. The league invoked the Force majeure clause of the latest collective-bargaining agreement, bringing the MLS Players Association to the table for negotiations for a third time in the past 12 months. Commissioner Don Garber issued a “hard deadline” of Jan. 28 to reach an agreement, but balked at stating a work stoppage could follow if a new CBA deal wasn’t signed.
MLSPA has yet to respond to the league’s proposal.
Morris in Wales
Sounders forward Jordan Morris left the U.S. men’s national team training camp in Florida this week and is reportedly in Wales to undergo a physical exam Friday prior to signing with Swansea City.
Wales Online reported Morris’ whereabouts Thursday. The club’s coach, Steve Cooper, confirmed earlier reports that Swansea is negotiating with the Sounders on a loan for Morris. The deal is expected to be for six months in hopes that Morris will help the Welsh club secure an automatic promotion to the English Premier League, according to The Athletic.
“It’s not quite done yet, but in the process of getting done,” Cooper said during a press conference Thursday. “It’s taking a little longer than we’d have liked, basically down to logistics more than anything else, when it finally gets done we’ll be pleased. A little bit cautious at the moment but it’s close to being done and it’ll be a good one when it is.”
Huskies make history
The University of Washington had two men’s soccer players drafted in the opening round of the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday, a first for the program. Center back Ethan Bartlow was selected sixth overall by the Houston Dynamo FC while fellow defender Freddy Kleemann was the No. 11 overall pick to Austin FC, a 2021 expansion franchise.
Bartlow became UW’s first Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year last season. He appeared in 20 matches and helped the Huskies record 12 shutouts.
Kleemann started 18 matches last season. He worked alongside Bartlow to help the Huskies defense only concede 14 goals in 2019.
UW didn’t play a 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sounders nab a keeper and make a trade
While Morris’ reported departure would leave a hole on the left wing, the Sounders opted to select a goalkeeper in the SuperDraft. TJ Bush, who starred at James Madison, was selected with the 80th overall pick, Seattle’s only selection in the three-round draft.
Bush, a two-time All-Colonial Athletic Association honoree, appeared in 21 games in 2019. He totaled 1,918 minutes, 61 saves and eight shutouts.
The Sounders also traded a 2022 second round selection to Inter Miami CF for Oregon State defender Joe Hafferty, a former Sounders FC Academy product and the No. 37 pick in the 2021 MLS Superdraft.