As expected, the Sounders FC didn’t make many roster changes heading into the offseason. The club announced Tuesday it exercised the 2023 contract options of multiple players to have 23 under contract.

There could still be movement via trades and as MLS on-boards St. Louis City SC with an expansion draft in November. Seattle can protect 12 players in addition to those tagged as Homegrowns. If St. Louis picks an unprotected player, the team will be paid $50,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM).

The Sounders expect to open training camp Jan. 4 to begin the 2023 campaign with the FIFA Club World Cup. The Rave Green advanced to the tournament by winning the CONCACAF Champions League title, the first MLS club to do so.

But the club failed to advance to the league postseason, ending an MLS-record 13-year streak of playoff appearances. MLS Supporters’ Shield-winning Los Angeles FC and Austin FC will vie for the Western Conference championship at Banc of California Stadium on Sunday at noon PT on ABC.

“Groups don’t get untalented from four or five months in the beginning (of a season) to three months in the back,” said Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders’ general manager and president of soccer, in contrasting the CCL run to the team only winning five MLS matches since July. “They can be inconsistent, and we have to address the source of that inconsistency, but the talent level really doesn’t fluctuate, certainly not of an entire group. … I wouldn’t expect radical change and philosophically, we don’t believe radical change is needed.”

The Sounders declined the contract options of 12-year league veteran forward Will Bruin and homegrown midfielder Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez. Left fullback Jimmy Medranda and club original Fredy Montero are out-of-contract, but the Sounders remain in active negotiations with Montero.

Advertising

Sam Adeniran, a forward who was sent on loan to USL championship side San Antonio FC, will determine his outlook with the Sounders after San Antonio’s postseason run.

Lagerwey said the “door isn’t closed” on the possibility of Bruin or Medranda returning, but the club wants to give them room to discuss options elsewhere, especially since Bruin likely would have to take a pay cut in order to return.

Seattle exercised its 2023 options for forward Jordan Morris, midfielder Josh Atencio, defender AB Cissoko, midfielder Danny Leyva, defender Jackson Ragen, midfielder Dylan Teves and keeper Andrew Thomas. The Sounders had 16 players already under contract for the 2023 season in designated players Raul Ruidiaz (striker), Nico Lodeiro (midfielder) and Albert Rusnak (midfielder); and defender Xavier Arreaga, midfielder Cristian Roldan, defender Nouhou, midfielder Joao Paulo, keeper Stefan Frei, defender Yeimar Gomez Andrade, keeper Stefan Cleveland, defender Alex Roldan, forward Leo Chu, midfielder Reed Baker-Whiting, midfielder Kelyn Rowe, midfielder Obed Vargas and midfielder Ethan Dobbelaere.

Joao Paulo (ACL) and Vargas (back) suffered season-ending injuries that impacted the latter half of the season. Ruidiaz (hamstring/ankle) and Cristian (sports hernia) were also out for stints the past two months.

Vargas and Joao Paulo remain on track to return for the beginning of the 2023 schedule, but won’t be pushed in order to play in the Club World Cup. While the prestigious tournament was discussed recently by FIFA officials, dates and locations are not solidified.

Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer has already begun evaluating training plans to optimize success for what is expected to be another grueling schedule in 2023. A few months after the CCL win, the technical staff reduced the volume of trainings and increased the intensity. Schmetzer said he wished he would have made that adjustment a month earlier.

Advertising

“We’ll look at that,” Schmetzer said when asked if the strategy could be carried through a whole season. “We’ll need them to have a very good base of fitness when they come in on Jan. 4, so their offseason is going to be very important for the players. Our fitness guys have given each player a specific, individually tailored-to-them fitness plan for the offseason, and it’s our expectation that they follow that.”

Lagerwey noted that this season’s 43-game schedule is the expected norm moving forward. The 2023 season could reach 54 matches when adding the Club World Cup, monthlong Leagues Cup competitions, minimum one U.S. Open Cup match and 34-game MLS season.

Fatigue was evident this year and is a reason the Sounders want to put more emphasis on developing and playing their younger players. Lagerwey plans to announce the signing of two young Tacoma Defiance players soon.

The issues aren’t solely player-related, according to comments made by Lodeiro to media after the 1-0 loss to Kansas City, that formally eliminated Seattle from the postseason. He also discussed his concerns with the front office in hopes of returning to the playoffs and MLS Cup next year.

“It’s very hard to not fall into the trap of we’ve always done it this way, so therefore it must be right,” Lagerwey said. “We’ve been able to add a player a year, but the core has largely been the same (since 2018 when Ruidiaz was signed). That can lead to some complacency. Some satisfaction. We went out and won Champions League, we effectively worked for a year-and-a-half to get to that point … but we got a little fatigued and we got a little complacent and that’s some of what Nico is referring to.

“We’re going to take a hard look at our structures, our player usage and see if we can come up with some better solutions, especially knowing that culturally, at least, the group is going to be largely the same going into next year.”