TUKWILA — Visions of Sounders players holding the golden CONCACAF Champions League trophy above their heads started to materialize with a phone call last week.
Unmotivated by player acquisitions presented, Garth Lagerwey, the club’s general manager and president of soccer, likely would have decided with his staff to let the MLS primary transfer window close Tuesday without a move. Typically Seattle makes a splash in the summer window — Nico Lodeiro, Raul Ruidiaz, Victor Rodriguez and Kelvin Leerdam being recent examples.
Then agents for Ecuadorian defender Xavier Arreaga and versatile midfielder Joevin Jones, of Trinidad and Tobago, called. The players have the right talent and agreed to the right price to make Seattle a legitimate contender domestically and in the region on the international stage.
“We’ve always talked about Champions League,” Lagerwey said. “If a real impactful center back is available now, maybe from an efficiency standpoint it’s six months too early, but I’d rather sign him now and have our team locked. If we are successful and if we qualify for Champions League, now in January we’re hitting the ground running and we’re saying we’re taking a shot at winning this thing, too.”
One of the questionable spots on the club’s roster is center back given that Chad Marshall, a three-time MLS defender of the year, and backup Roman Torres are in their mid-30s and could be retiring soon while Kim Kee-hee will turn 30 in July. If Seattle (5-1-4) is going to pull off its brewing magical season, it needed to strengthen its defensive line.
Arreaga, 24, is a rising star who became a wish-list player once evaluated in person last month by Chris Henderson, the Sounders’ vice president of soccer and sporting director. Arreaga not only has size but was captain of his team in the Ecuadorian Serie A league, displaying deft leadership.
Still, the thought was for when the season concluded this summer. The same for Jones, who helped the Sounders win the 2016 MLS title and kept in contact with the team with the intention to return. He left in 2017 to play in Germany.
But Arreaga and Jones’ clubs cleared way for them to seek other deals because losing the players wouldn’t affect their seasons’ outcomes. SV Darmstadt 98, Jones’ second-division club, even agreed to defer payment of his $150,000 transfer fee to 2020 to help the Sounders stay within the salary cap.
“It was the only way we could swing a deal this year,” Lagerwey said.
For Arreaga’s three-year deal worth about $1.5 million, he was officially declared a “designated player,” but Lagerwey said it was for accounting purposes to also remain within the MLS salary cap.
Rodriguez’s contract was categorized as Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) — funds provided by MLS — but Arreaga’s contract likely will be reclassified as TAM in the future.
The Sounders had money to consider the players because they lost an opportunity to sign Peruvian midfielder Paolo Hurtado during the last summer window.
“I’ve never had two (deals) happen at the same time like that,” said Lagerwey of the quick turnaround. “We’ve been grinding it. This is the general manager’s life — I’m literally going to bed talking to Germany and getting up talking to Ecuador and everything in between all day.”
While the deals were quickly decided and finalized, getting the players to Seattle could be delayed until July. The players need to be cleared to get visas and will likely play for their national teams during the CONCACAF Gold Cup (Trinidad and Tobago) and Copa America (Ecuador).
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said Wednesday’s training session was lively because of knowledge of the signings. Jones, 27, can play the wing on either side of the field or left back, which creates competition for several positions.
And, while unrelated to the signings, Jones could be a stopgap if left back Brad Smith is recalled to Bournemouth. The English Premier League club loaned him to Seattle through June.
“We’re hopeful that Brad can stay with us past July,” said Lagerwey, who met with Smith’s agent last week. Smith has also made clear he wants to remain with the Sounders.
“That transaction, at the end of the day, is out of our control,” Lagerwey continued. “Bournemouth owns him. Unequivocally, we think Brad’s done a great job and we want Brad to stay.”
The Sounders also have Nouhou, 21, as an option at left back.
Arreaga is a slight unknown because he hasn’t played outside of Ecuador but he doesn’t have to play immediately. Schmetzer said he’s toying with a few lineup ideas but won’t factor the players into his future planning until they arrive.
“This hopefully makes us slump proof,” Lagerwey said. “Once we get these two guys in, there really aren’t bad choices. If you’ve got six guys hurt at the same time, sure, that could still knock you back. But we should have one or two good answers at basically every spot on the field now and hopefully take a shot at winning this thing.”